Going into July 4th, I was in a cooking rut. With time being more limited due to other obligations and a new commute combined with limited space and tools, I felt stifled. At first, I pressed. That did not work, so I backed off for a little while.
As cliche as it sounds, a trip to a new market, this one in the town where I grew up, gave me a spark. There was a friendly lamb raiser who seemed both surprised about an inquiry regarding lamb offal and especially eager to rid herself of it. While the kidneys appealed, I opted for the liver. I spent the next few hours in the car thinking about how I wanted to use it. The thoughts that rushed into my head went back to what I like to cook and eat best.
That answer is easy. As much as I like to try new stuff, I go back to the American South. The dish was liver pudding.
Liver pudding is basically dead-center on the boudin to scrapple continuum. Like scrapple, the pudding is set in a loaf pan, but like boudin, the binder is rice. If you would head North from South Carolina, you would find liver mush, which is virtually indistinguishable from scrapple (besides the elevated liver content). Liver pudding is made exclusively with pork, but since I had a lamb liver, lamb was the meat of the day. There was no fanciness, but rather utility in using what was on hand. Since we were setting the pudding in a loaf pan, I wanted gelatin, so I used bone-in shanks and with an entire cured leg waiting for use, I added a hunk of fatty lamb ham.
The remainder was keeping things basic and paying attention to the details. The meat needed to be cooked, but if it was overcooked, the pudding would be dry. Once the meat was cooked, I peeled the shanks from the bone and ran the cooked ham, shanks, and liver along with the onion through the meat grinder.
I added the ground meat and onions back to the new thick, fatty, and intensely lamb-y stock along with cooked Carolina Gold rice, sage and black and red pepper. I cooked the mixture, stirring frequently until, as Edna Lewis wrote, resembled peanut butter. The mixture went into a pan lined with cling wrap. Into the fridge it went with two pounds of miso to weigh the mixture down.
The next day, the mixture came out cleanly and sliced relatively well. The texture was not brick solid, but similar to hard frozen ice cream (perhaps pudding is an appropriate name after all). After heating a slice in a hot pan, I ate it for breakfast with grits, an egg and a few shakes of hot sauce.
Even though I had tasted the pudding before it went in the mold for seasoning, I was still surprised at the flavors. There was liver in the dish, it was clear by the minerality, but it was not a forward flavor. The gaminess of the lamb came through beautifully. It was starkly savory and with the sage and black pepper flavors in each bite was clearly kin to breakfast sausage, in addition to scrapple and boudin.
My hope is that this return to my comfort zone, my sweet spot, is a kick start to a new day in the kitchen. A new day in a new kitchen that should be ready in a few weeks.
Lamb Liver Pudding
- 300 grams lamb liver
- 625 grams bone-in lamb shank
- 75 grams lamb ham
- 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup Carolina Gold rice
- 3 large sage leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Black pepper, freshly cracked
Step one: Add liver, shanks, ham, onions, and salt in a pot. Cover with water and boil for 2-3 hours.
Step two: Remove all solids, reserving stock. Run solids through a meat grinder.
Step three: Cook rice and add with ground mixture back to the stock. Add sage leaves, red pepper flakes and black pepper.
Step five: Cook entire pot until texture resembles that of peanut butter.
Step six: Taste. Season aggressively.
Step seven: Pour into a prepared pan and chilled overnight while weighed down.