Sweetbreads are neither
Oh how I procrastinate experimenting with innards. As much as it may seem that I’m adventurous with food because of the theme of my blog, I have never been an organs person.
But there’s this new butcher near the end of our street that is highly fancy and expensive, and although I can’t break the bank and shop there all the time, they have some cool stuff. Like pork blood. (What does one do with… don’t worry, I’ll eventually let you know). So for some reason, maybe because it’s pricey and pristine, I feel like I can trust their innards enough that if I cook them it won’t turn me off. I’ve always wanted to give sweetbreads a go because people who actually enjoy eating guts seem to prize them. That’s where their name comes from – “sweet,” as in, “sweeeeeet,” (said like a surfer). The bread part of the name is from the Old English word “broed,” meaning “flesh.” Anyway, I figured that if I could stomach (pun not originally intended) the best of the entrails, I’d look super cool to all of you guys, and you’d think I eat this kind of thing all the time. That I’m truly dangerous.
So is it working?
Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of a calf or lamb or young pig – they degrade in older animals, so you have to get ’em young. I don’t love the idea of eating the young’uns, but I figure they’re likely not axing them for the thymus, so it’s really just taking advantage of what might otherwise be thrown out (plus my conscience clears quickly if something tastes really good). The thymus is responsible for T-cells which are the immune system’s army, so although I didn’t read this anywhere, I’m going to put my pseudoscience hat on (everybody’s doin it) and say that it’s good for you.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Where are all the jokes, Ann? This post is a little too educational for me.” Well since you asked… If sweetbreads are ripe for the cooking, apparently they should feel like a firm, young breast (Odd Bits says that Chef Daniel says so).
Sadly, this knowledge made me defensive of my own bosom. ie. “But I’m sure that mine are just as good as any thymus gland…” No volunteers for verification, please, this isn’t that kind of blog. But hopefully neither your sweetbreads nor your breasts feel like Lady Gaga’s in the picture above. If your glands feel like guns, please ask your butcher and your plastic surgeon for a refund.
Let’s move on. This whole recipe went down in a rather complicated way, so I’ll try to abbreviate it.
1. I bought my frozen sweetbreads, deciding to thaw them while my husband was away so that I wouldn’t get complaints after answering “Hey, what’s for dinner?” Sometimes I get complaints if the answer is “fish,” so somehow I knew that “glands,” wouldn’t be warmly received.
2. I sorted through recipes, reading that most traditionally, sweetbreads are done in a mushroom cream sauce. Score. If I was going to eat these suckers, the more decadent the surroundings the better. It’s hard to hate fat.
3. I found some odd dried mushrooms at the farmer’s market called matsutakes. As we all know, Odd is great. I’ve been wanting to learn to rehydrate mushrooms for the ‘ol blog, so that was a double score. Unfortunately for me, they are a highly prized mushroom by the Japanese and are hard to find, so they were $15 for a wee little baggie, and I was too embarrassed to say no when we were exchanging money. The same forager-market-guy had also just gotten his hands on some wild leeks which were cheaper, apparently collected by First Nations people. This recipe was getting better and better. As long as the sweetbreads didn’t suck. And as long as my husband didn’t find out I spent $20 on dried mushrooms and a handful of leeks. Don’t worry, I paid cash (untraceable).
4. I started soaking stuff. The mushroom instructions ($3 per word) said to soak in cold water for 5-40 minutes, but even at the end of 40 I found that some were stiff in the middle. I waited. At the same time, I soaked the sweetbreads, which need to be in salt water for 4-6 hours, changing the water a few times.
5. I put the kids to bed. Now it was dark, which sucks for food pictures, but even more importantly, the dark brings out the raccoons. I hate raccoons, and I planned to grill. I knew I’d end up arm wrestling them for the sweetbreads. I survived only by using my wily evasion tactics (tongs carefully brandished as a potential jabbing and/or smacking weapon) and I accomplished my mission.
6. Here is the rest of the recipe.
Wild mushroom and leek cream sauce
- 1Tbsp butter
- Handful of wild leeks, using whites and light greens only. Chop.
- 2C chicken stock
- Mushrooms soaked in cold chicken stock 1 hour, and then chopped (soaking in hot will leave them chewy) **Reserve mushroom liquid
- 1/2C dry white wine
- 3/4C 18% cream
Directions: Melt butter in skillet over med heat. Sautee leeks, 2 mins. Add drained, chopped mushrooms. Sautee until fragrant, 3 mins. Add wine and simmer until nearly gone. Add cream and pepper and reduce briefly to desired consistency.
- Sweetbreads to serve 2 people, soaked in 2C water with 2tsp salt, 4-6 hours, changing water a few times
- Mushroom liquids from earlier soak
- 3Tbsp butter, melted for basting
Directions: Remove membrane from sweetbreads as best you can (it’s a bit like the membrane on the back of ribs, but more delicate, and so annoying). Bring mushroom liquids to a boil and add sweetbreads. Turn a few times until slightly more solid and opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove and brush with liquid butter. Grill until more firm, about 5 minutes per side, basting once if you choose to taunt the raccoons with your presence. Top sweetbreads with mushroom cream sauce.
Results: Apologies for the picture – no natural light when I finally finished this recipe at 10. But yum! I expected to be disappointed, but I ate the entire bag of $15 mushrooms in the sauce. The leeks were extra special too, so be sure to find or grow some. This was a very simple, quick sauce to make with limited ingredients. I also ate a lot of the sweetbreads, which tasted like meaty scallops. I would order them at a restaurant, and might even cook them again. Who knew? Rating: A very surprised 3 yums
Question: Which gut meats would you dare to try?