About a week ago I sat down and watched two programs about Jack the Ripper back to back. (Oddly, these were shown on The Military Channel, even though these murders had no apparent connection with military matters, or personnel, etc.) They were both interesting, with cases being made for an obscure Whitechapel mortuary attendant Robert Mann, and then convicted wife murderer/insane asylum escapee/alleged
immigrant James Kelly as being good candidates for being the murderer. (Kelly seems like the more likely person to me.) Anyway, during these broadcasts mention was made about the letters sent to various investigators and the press that were supposedly written by Jack, including the most convincing one, the October 16th, 1888 letter which included half a human kidney, which seemed to match up with the missing organ from fourth victim Catherine Eddowes. (The letter was addressed “From hell,” and included the sentences, “Sir I send you half the Kidne I took from one woman prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise.” (sic)) A day or two later I was walking through the meat section of my grocery store, and there I saw beef kidneys for sale. Since I’d never had these before, I decided to once again relax my personal habit of never cooking my own food (save for microwaving). (For all none of you that are keeping track, combined with the pig’s ears this means I’ve cooked twice within the past 80 days or so, surely a personal record.) U.S.
The internet provided many recipes, although unfortunately most of these were for the English dish called steak and kidney pie (sort of a turkey pot pie with the titular meat filling instead of turkey). Since preparing a pastry pie shell would have added yet more ingredients, prep time, and cooking time, I ignored these and went for the ones that told how to cook kidneys in a simpler way. There were some variations, so I combined these into one recipe that seemed the easiest to make, had the best predicted taste outcome, and used ingredients and spices I already had access to.
Several recipes strongly advised soaking the kidneys beforehand, to get rid of/minimize what contributers categorized as “the terrible urine smell.” (Mouth watering yet?) This seemed prudent, so I soaked the kidney in an icy salt water bath for about an hour and a half. After rinsing off the kidney, it was time to cut. Every cook said you had to remove the membrane, fat, and large blood vessels (once again, I’m sure these details are really selling readers on this meal). These were mainly concentrated in a large whitish section of tissue in the center of the overall beanlike shape of the kidney. Removing this was difficult, even with a sharp knife. But finally I had just reddish pieces of kidney, which I cut into small bite sized pieces. I then greased a skillet with butter and olive oil, added the kidney portions, and sautéed them for about twenty minutes on low/medium heat, until the pieces were brown. Next I put the kidney chunks aside and sautéed mushrooms, an onion, a shallot, and garlic in the olive oil and butter for about ten minutes. Finally I re-added the kidney pieces and put in some water and slow cooked everything for an hour. To be fair, this was probably longer than necessary, but as I’m such a beginner chef I’m paranoid about undercooking and getting nasty intestinal worms, and luckily some of the recipes mentioned that it was almost impossible to overcook kidneys.
Then it was chow time. To me kidney tasted remarkably like liver—chewy, and good in a weird way. It had a distinct “organ-y” texture, but I had no problems finishing about a pound of it (I was hungry, plus I’m a bit of glutton). I experimented and found that Worcestershire sauce complemented it nicely, gave it a good zing. Therefore, I would enthusiastically have kidney again. Although, as usual, I’d prefer it to be in a restaurant, or prepared by someone other than myself. Also, for the record, the soaking apparently did the job—the odor of cooking kidney was faint, and of meat, not a revolting bathroom-type smell.
P.S. I did some further reading later, and discovered that even the letter I mentioned is highly questioned by most “Ripperologists.” Evidently the details that made it seem more credible in pre-modern forensic and DNA days, like the portion of renal artery left was consistent with the portion left in Catherine’s, and that it showed signs of being from someone who suffered from alcoholism and Bright’s Disease, as did Catherine, were only mentioned by one of the observant doctors decades later in his memoirs, and not in his original notes and report. And, supposedly getting a hold of a human kidney wasn’t that tough in 1888
, especially for med students. So, according to the experts, in effect, the October 16th letter could have easily been a tasteless prank. England