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Kidney? You're kidding! Underused meat deserves a second chance

ABOUT as close as most Americans want to get to anything resembling even the shape of a kidney is a swimming pool. Or maybe a bean. Mention you are planning to serve kidneys for dinner, and you'd better get a head count before you set the table.

Kidneys, and their bedfellows - sweetbreads, liver, tripe, and brains - are usually found in cookbooks under the dubious category ``variety meats.'' That is, if they are found at all.

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Chances are they'll never make it in the fast-food chains. Not even McDonald's could market a McTripe or McKidney.

So it's up to you to discover these underused meats that do deserve consideration. It's not that you can't find them in your local supermarket - it's just that they usually end up on the Alpo and Little Friskies labels.

That's a pity.

Kidneys, for one, are worth discovering. They are appreciated and deliciously prepared throughout the world. They appear occasionally on tapas menus in Spain and show up in a mixed grill and, of course, Steak and Kidney Pie in England. The Chinese eat them, too - but then again, they eat duck feet and fish lips.

Just maybe the rest of the world is on to something you should know a little more about!

Kidneys are loaded with flavor, cheap in price, high in nutrition, and low in fat. But before you wake your butcher in the middle of the night demanding a case of kidneys be delivered to your door by noon, there are a few things to consider.

Kidneys freeze well, but are best when bought fresh. Stick with those from small, less mature animals - lambs and calves are best. They are more delicate in flavor and may be the choice to experiment with first. Beef, sheep, and pig kidneys are stronger in flavor.

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Kidneys may be served simply cut into serving pieces and saut'eed in butter, or halved and grilled on skewers between alternated onions and mushrooms.

They are a wonderful addition to a mixed grill with lamb chops, sausages, and grilled vegetables.

Or why not start with the tried and true British classic? After all, can generations of British cooks be wrong?

Well, never mind, try it anyway!

Steak and Kidney Pie 1 1/2 pounds lean steak or stewing beef 2 tablespoons bacon fat 1 large onion, chopped Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon dried mustard or 1 table spoon Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (optional) 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary 1/4 teaspoon thyme 2 cups beef stock (more if necessary) Flour 1/2 to 3/4 pounds lamb or veal kidneys Prepared piecrust for top of 10-inch pie

Cut beef in 1-inch cubes. Heat bacon fat in large heavy skillet or pan. Add beef and brown well. Add onion and cook until slightly wilted.

Add salt, pepper, Worcestershire, bay leaf, mustard, parsley, and herbs.

Add enough beef stock to cover meat by about 1 inch. Cover pan and simmer for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, until beef is tender.

Blend about 1 tablespoon flour with 1/4 cup cold water and add to beef to thicken sauce. There should be plenty of rich, thick sauce, so add a little more beef stock if necessary. Remove from heat when slightly thickened and allow to cool down at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Meanwhile, halve kidneys; remove any fat or veins. Cut into bite-size pieces and rinse under cold water.

Add kidneys to beef mixture and pour into deep pie dish.

Top with prepared piecrust. Slash top and bake for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F., and bake additional 15 minutes. Serves 4.

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