10 November 2009

Veal Sweetbreads

As we rapidly approach the end of 2009, I've started to reflect on my year. At the end of 2008, I resolved to eat and cook as many varied creatures and parts of creatures that I could find time for. In that, I haven't been as good as I could have, so in an end-of-the-year push, I'm going to try to remedy this.

I begin with veal sweetbreads.

Raw 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 sweetbreads
1 lemon
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
Dissolve 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).

Raw veal sweetbreads

Fish out the sweetbreads, and gently peel off the membrane.

Raw veal sweetbreads

You'll know you're starting to go too far when the sweetbreads start to fall apart into little chunks.

Raw veal sweetbreads

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.

Raw veal sweetbreads

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.

Poaching sweetbreads

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.

Dried sweetbreads

Season the flour with salt and pepper. Gently coat the sweetbread nuggets with the flour mixture.

Breaded sweetbreads

Gently brown the floured sweetbreads in melted butter.

Browned sweetbreads

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.

Pancetta and onions

Add the mushrooms, and cook until softened. Add the pork stock and cherry-wine mixture. Add the sweetbreads, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Finished sweetbreads

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."



John Lynch said...

I am right there with you. I was raised on a farm and all of the organs we took out of the animals we butchered was fed to the dogs. Now being a chef, I am sickened by the great food we threw away because my parents didn't know how to work with it.

Indirect Heat said...

Yep, the main difference between the expensive cuts and the cheap bits are how much work it takes to make it delicious. I'm a new fan of sweetbreads. A bunch of steps, but well worth it.

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