Sweetbreads are so delicious, even people who wouldn’t normally eat ” adventurous” cuts love them, which is why they end up on so many restaurant menus.
Sweetbreads are most often prepared breaded and fried, but in this simple grilled preparation they develop a nice crust on the outside while staying rich and creamy on the inside. Since they’re delicate, you have to be a little more careful about how you prepare them than other, heartier cuts (like heart), but the work is absolutely worth it.
They truly don’t need to be dressed up with fancy sides, although a flavorful dipping sauce is always welcome; I particularly enjoy something tart or acidic to balance with mild creaminess of the meat, such as the Chimichurri Dipping Sauce.
4 (9-inch) Wood Skewers, soaked in water for 1 hour
Gently rinse the sweetbreads and soak them in a bowl of cold filtered water with a pinch of salt for a minimum of 1 hour or up to 12 hours (overnight). Drain the sweetbreads.
In a pot large enough to fit the sweetbreads in a single layer, bring 2 cups of filtered water to a boil. Turn the heat down to maintain a simmer, add the sweetbreads, and simmer for 30 minutes, until firm but not rubbery. Remove the sweetbreads from the water and put them in a large bowl of ice water, which will allow them to cool and frim up for the grill.
Pat the sweetbreads dry with a paper towel and, with your fingers, remove any visible membranes or fat. Separate into roughly 1 1/2-inch pieces using your fingers, (Even when cooked, they’re delicate and will break apart easily, so make sure you don’t mush them up too much!)
Put the sweetbreads in a large bowl and toss with 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, the coconut aminos, the remaining teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Then thread the sweetbread pieces carefully onto the skewers, about 5 pieces per skewer.
Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil in a large grill pan over medium heat.
Grill the sweetbreads on the grill pan, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
The sweetbreads will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, but I recommend you eat them right away. You can reheat them on the stovetop, in a pan over medium heat with a tablespoon of ghee for about 5 minutes.
Recipe is an excerpt from It Takes Guts by Ashleigh Vanhoute and can be purchased here.
Sweetbreads, the thymus gland of young cows, are part of the great category we call offal (organs and glands that are delicious and nutritious when properly prepared). They are used often as a garnish in this book because they’re mild enough to take on other flavors as well and, when sautéed, can be crispy on the outside and densely tender within.
They are very easy to cook, though they are almost always cooked twice–first to cook them through and make any membrane and connective tissue easy to identify and remove, and second to flavor them and give them their texture. The first cooking can be as simple as boiling them for a few minutes. But for more flavor and a terrific all-around preparation to either include in a terrine or to sauté till browned and crisp, we offer the following general technique.
Dissolve the salt in the water in a large bowl. Add the sweetbreads, cover, and refrigerate for 12 to 48 hours to extract any blood.
Drain and rinse the sweetbreads. Put them in a pot, cover them with fresh water, and bring the water to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat and cook the sweetbreads until firm, about 15 minutes. Drain them and cool under cold running water. Remove any membrane, gristle, or other connective tissue.
In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and parsnip and cook until tender; a couple minutes. Add the Madeira, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaf. Nestle the sweetbreads in the liquid. When the liquid returns to a simmer, turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and braise for 20-30 minutes.
Let the sweetbreads cool in the pan. They are now ready to finish in whatever way you wish.
You can use veal or lamb sweetbreads for this recipe.
For use in a terrine, remove them and break or cut them into 1-inch pieces.
Strain the braising liquid and reduce for use in pâté recipes in which sweetbreads are an interior garnish.
This recipe is an excerpt from Pâté, Confit, Rillette by Brian Polcyn with Michael Ruhlman
Purchase the book here.
Once you have mastered this you are on your way, your sweetbreads ready to welcome any number of companions on the plate with them.
We tend to use lamb sweetbreads, but you can utilize equally delicious veal sweetbreads.
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
A Pot of Water (enough to cover the sweetbreads)
A Healthy Splash of White Wine
Cloves of Garlic
A Bundle of Thyme and Parsley, tied together
A Splash of Olive Oil
A Knob of Unsalted Butter
Rinse the sweetbreads thoroughly under cold, gentle running water to remove any blood.
Bring the pot of water, with the wine, herbs, and spices added to a boil. Slip the sweetbreads into the pot.
Poach for 2 1/2 minutes, only until slightly firm.
Remove the sweetbreads and lay onto a kitchen towel lined tray to cool and dry.
Once cooled enough to handle, peel the membrane off the little glands. This can be tedious, but necessary.
Get the frying pan (cast iron preferred) hot but not furiously hot. Add a splash of oil and a knob of butter. As this melts, season the sweetbreads with salt and pepper. Add to the pan. It should sound like a steady sizzle, not a frantic singeing.
Brown to a nutty crispness all over but where it retains its giving interior.
Serve immediately with a chunk of lemon OR there are many additions you can add to the pan: a splash of chicken stock, a splash of red wine vinegar, peas, pea shoots, young fava beans, bacon, quarters of Little Gem lettuce, braised endive, mint, capers, young spinach, or watercress.
This excerpt is taken from The Whole Beast by Fergus Henderson, purchase the book here.