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.


clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon

On Cooking Sweetbreads

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

No reviews

  • Author: Jill Baker


Units Scale

1/4 c. Kosher Salt

1 quart Water

1 lb. Sweetbreads

2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter

1/2 c. Diced Onion

1/4 c. Diced Celery

1/4 c. Diced Parsnip

1 c. Madeira Wine

5 Black Peppercorns

1/2 bunch Fresh Thyme

1 Bay Leaf


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.