Sweetbreads from veal are my favorite of the variety meats. Gloria's two favorite offal are calves' brains and pig's feet, both of which she ranks above sweetbreads. When I came to the United States many years ago, sweetbreads were extremely inexpensive because no one bought them. Unfortunately, times have changed, and sweetbreads are quite expensive now.
There are two types of sweetbreads: the long, narrow strip in the throat, which is the thymus gland, and a larger, rounder gland near the heart, which is the pancreas gland. Both are good, though I tend to prefer the larger one, which is more solid and in one piece, so it is easier to slice into it. You can have your sweetbreads in pâtés, braised slowly in the oven, or in puff pastry. In this recipe, they are sliced and sautéed. Regardless of how you plan to serve sweetbreads, they must be soaked in cold water first. I often do this overnight, but the water should be changed a few times, as it gets reddish in color. Sweetbreads should be white after soaking, which improves their taste and appearance.
In most of my cooking life, I have blanched sweetbreads and pressed them under a weight before proceeding with a recipe. All of my books reflect this. Some chefs blanch sweetbreads for a minute or so, others for 15 minutes. Blanching eliminates the sometimes offending odor of raw offal, and keeping them under a weight makes them more compact and uniform in texture.
But for this recipe, I slice raw, unblanched sweetbreads into ½-inch slices and sauté them with excellent results. You can dredge the slices in one of the following: fine, dry bread crumbs, regular flour, Wondra flour, or roasted corn flour. Each of these gives a slightly different coating and crispness to the sweetbreads. A favorite classic preparation is to brush the sweetbreads with melted butter before coating them with bread crumbs, so the crumbs will adhere well.
I serve sweetbreads on top of corn or other vegetables in season, and make a little dressing with fresh tomato, onion, capers, oil, and lemon juice to spoon over them. The dressing shouldn”t be spooned on until the last minute, because you don”t want to lose the crispness of the sliced sweetbreads. The dressing can also be served on the side.
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturecrisp, juicy, meaty, savory, sweet, tangy, tart
- 1 or 2 pieces (about 1¼ pounds total) veal sweetbreads
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups fine dried bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 5 ears sweet corn
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper
- Minced chives
- ¾ cup tomato, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice
- 1 scant teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
Soak the sweetbreads overnight or for at least 6 hours, changing the water occasionally, until they are white. Remove any skin, and pull out any sinews from the outside. Cut into ½-inch slices, about 2 slices per person, and set aside.
For the corn, remove the kernels from the ears, which should yield about 3 cups. Sauté the kernels in the butter for about 2 minutes over high heat, just enough for the starch to set, making the corn very sweet. Add salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of minced chives, mix, and set aside. You can always rewarm the corn in a regular oven or a microwave oven at serving time.
For the dressing, combine in a glass bowl the tomato, garlic, onion, capers, good olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and parsley. Set aside.
When ready to sauté your sweetbreads, salt and pepper the slices. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a microwave oven, and dip the sweetbread slices into about 2 cups of fine dried bread crumbs, making sure that they are well coated on both sides. (I dry leftover bread, preferably from a country-style loaf or baguette, in a 180°F oven, and then process it in a food processor to a make a fine meal.)
Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet (or two smaller skillets). Add the sweetbread slices, and cook over high heat for about 4 minutes on each side, or until each side is nicely browned and crisp.
Divide the warm corn kernels among four dinner plates, and form them into “nests.” Arrange 2 slices of sweetbreads in the center of the nest on each plate. Spoon the dressing around the sweetbreads or on top of them, as you prefer, and serve immediately.
2007 Jacques Pepin