I begin with veal sweetbreads.
Veal sweetbreads come from the thymus, and are responsible for immune cell maturation. They're a delicacy that doesn't freeze well, so one is advised to purchase them as fresh as possible. I special ordered mine from my local butcher.
I hadn't the foggiest how to prepare them. I had never eaten them before, much less cooked them, so I poked around on our lovely internets, and found a recipe at the New York Times that looked like fun. I modified it slightly:
1 1⁄3 pounds sweetbreadsDissolve a tablespoon of salt in 2 cups of water. Pour overtop of the sweetbreads, and soak in the fridge for an hour and a half. While you're soaking them, mix the wine and dried cherries, and soak (all day if you want to. Watching them plump up is pretty fun).
½ cup dried cherries
1⁄3 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons flour
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ ounces pancetta, in one slice, diced
½ cup finely chopped onion
24 very small cremini mushrooms, stems removed
2⁄3 cup pork stock
1 tablespoon minced tarragon
Fish out the sweetbreads, and gently peel off the membrane.
You'll know you're starting to go too far when the sweetbreads start to fall apart into little chunks.
You may need a knife to cut off bits of the membrane. This was the only tricky part of the preparation, because it's really hard to know when to stop. You really never run out of membrane.
Place the sweetbreads in a saucepan, and cover with water.
Bring the water to a gentle simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the stove and let it cool down. I briefly considered abandoning this project at this point. The smell of liver was rather overwhelming... But push past it, and you will be rewarded.
Place the cool sweetbreads in the fridge until you're ready to complete the dish. Half an hour before serving, remove the sweetbreads from the water, and break into small chunks. Pat dry.
Season the flour with salt and pepper. Gently coat the sweetbread nuggets with the flour mixture.
Gently brown the floured sweetbreads in melted butter.
Take the browned sweetbreads out of the pan and let cool.
Coarsely chop the pancetta and finely chop the onions.
Sauté the onions and pancetta together in butter.
Add the mushrooms, and cook until softened. Add the pork stock and cherry-wine mixture. Add the sweetbreads, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle tarragon on top and serve. The sweetbreads were the same consistency as a bread stuffing. The mushrooms were delightful. And the sauce was sweet and tasty. Sweetbreads are very mild flavoured, but delicious. The worst comment from our guests that night was, "If I had been raised differently, I could like this. But I was raised to think that organ meat isn't edible."