Unlike their name, sweetbreads are not bread or sweet. They are the internal organs of a young animal or offal. There are two types of sweetbreads: heart and throat/neck parts. These organs are from a young lamb or calf.
Neck or throat sweetbreads are also referred to as the thymus glands while the heart ones are made from the pancreas and heart gland. The younger the animal, the softer the texture and the flavor of the sweetbreads. Those ones are also lighter in color.
This article discusses everything about sweetbreads, including their origin, where to buy some, and some recipes to make yours at home.
Where Did They Originate From?
The term sweetbread was first certified in the 16th century. However, the name’s history is ambiguous. Sweet might be used as the thymus gland is rich-tasting and sweet instead of savory. The word bread comes from “brede”, which means roasted meat or bread (meat or flesh) in Old English.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, sweetbreads were a highly sought-after meal. Although their popularity has decreased over time, they are still a delicacy in various countries. In the past, they were delicious, easy to find, and cheap.
However, things have changed over the years as they are now not easy to find as restaurants make them as signature dishes, and you can hardly get the ingredients from your local butcher.
You will not find most restaurants using sweetbreads to garnish their meat dishes, which has lowered the value of this once popular dish. For many years, animal organs and veal such as sweetbreads have held a high place in European kitchens.
Before people could walk into supermarkets to buy meat, they would butcher their animals, and nothing was wasted from the carcasses. It led to many recipes for tasty bits from odd but delicious and nutritious cuts. People discovered how nutritious and tasty young animals’ internal organs were, which led to the invention of this popular dish.
What Do Sweetbreads Taste Like?
Unlike other offal types, sweetbreads don’t have musty flavors, which could be because they are soaked and blanched before being cooking. Their texture is highly smooth, moist, and tender, with a creamy and quite mild flavor.
Sweetbreads have a crispy outer layer and moist well-cooked inner part. They pair nicely with both acidic and rich sauces. They leave a flavorful taste to your palate: not too strong for first-timers.
If you love trying out new dishes, you should consider indulging in some well-cooked sweetbreads. Don’t let the thought of eating a gland put you off as you will enjoy them. Think of a light taste with a hint of iodine without the strong offal flavor.
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How to Prepare Sweetbreads (with Recipes)
Whichever way you choose to cook your sweetbreads; you need to first soak them in cold water for three to twenty-four hours. Some people soak them for longer. The process allows them to remove any remnant blood and dirt.
Keep changing the water occasionally during the soak for a clean end-result. The next step involves blanching your sweetbreads to make the texture firmer. You do this by putting them in a pot of boiling water and let them simmer for around five minutes.
Put them in ice water for instant cooling and then drain. Once they are cool enough to handle, pick each sweetbread carefully to take it off the gristly, fatty, veins, and sinewy pieces. If you don’t wish to remove the membrane, be extra careful with this step.
In some recipes, before cooking sweetbreads, people remove the organ membrane. It might seem like a dirty job, but it is easy. You will need to simmer your sweetbreads until they firm up, but are still not cooked through.
Using your fingers and a sharp knife, peel the tubes, the membrane, and the gristle away. Also, clean any animal-like bits you might find in the glands. Sweetbreads’ sections are joined by tissue and a membrane network, which you should peel away while retaining the organ clumps.
Although it might result in smaller-sized sweetbreads, they will be tender and juicy once cooked. Apart from sweetbreads’ wonderful texture and flavor, it is almost impossible to overcook them.
You can sear their exterior as much as you wish without any worries that the interior will turn tough and chewy. After trimming and blanching it, you should press them. Do this by laying them on a clean towel, shallow pan, or tray.
Avoid stacking the sweetbreads as you do this. Place a clean towel on top and cover them with a pan or another tray of the same size. Put a heavyweight on top of the last tray, such as a heavy pot full of water.
Put your weighted sweetbreads in the refrigerator for further pressing, and leave them there for at least two hours. Once pressed, they will be firm enough to cut into medallions. You can now easily grill, sauté, or fry these medallions, and here are two simple recipes.
Grilled Sweetbreads Recipe
- 1lb sweetbreads
- 1 cup distilled vinegar
- 1gallon cold water
- 2tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2tbsp. salt
- 4 (12-inch) wooden skewers (soak them in warm water for one hour)
- Thoroughly rinse your sweetbreads and transfer them to a pot and add water, salt, and vinegar. Boil them over high heat and then lower the heat and let them simmer for 10 minutes. Drain them in a colander and place them in a bowl of icy water to cool.
- As the sweetbreads are cooling, prepare your grill over direct heat. Use medium-hot charcoal or if you are using gas, go for moderately high heat.
- Drain the sweetbreads and pat them dry. Using your fingers separate them into 11/2-inch pieces. Toss the sweetbreads in a bowl with oil and then thread them onto the skewers. Each skewer should have at least five of them. Season with pepper and salt.
- Lightly oil your grill rack and grill your sweetbreads. If you are using a gas grill, cover it. Keep turning them occasionally until they turn golden brown. The process should take five to seven minutes.
- Transfer your cooked sweetbreads to a platter and loosely cover them with foil. Let them stand for some time before serving them with your favorite accompaniment.
- You can also grill sweetbreads in a hot lightly-oiled ridged grill pan.do this over moderately-high heat. Ensure that your grill pan is properly seasoned.
- 5ounces veal sweetbreads
- 4 cups of water
- Sea or kosher salt
- ¼ cup finely milled flour
- 1tbsp. fresh lemon juice and half a lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2-3tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1tbsp. brined nonpareil capers
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ celery leaves
- Forty-eight hours before cooking, put your sweetbreads in a container or small bowl and cover them with milk. Allow them to soak in the refrigerator overnight. Remove them from the milk and discard the milk. Trim any dark parts and veins, and rinse them thoroughly. Set them aside.
- Put your sweetbreads in a medium-sized pot and cover them with water. Add the juice of half a lemon and a big pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil and blanch them for five minutes. Remove them and immediately put them in an ice bath.
- Line a sheet pan with a kitchen towel and put your sweetbreads on it in one layer. Cover them by folding the towel over them. Place another sheet pan on top to weigh it down. You can substitute the sheet pan with a heavy pot or several tomato cans. Place them in the refrigerator and leave them overnight.
- Slice any large sweetbreads into medallions. Spread the flour on a wide plate and season it well with a lot of pepper and salt. Toss them in the seasoned flour and coat them evenly on all sides.
- Melt the unsalted butter in a heavy skillet and cook your sweetbreads over medium heat until they turn golden brown. Place your cooked sweetbreads on a plate lined with paper towels. Tent them lightly with foil to ensure they stay warm as you prepare your garnish.
- In a small bowl, whisk salt, the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, olive oil, and a few pepper grinds until they emulsify. Add the celery leaves, capers, and parsley, and stir the mixture to combine everything. Put your sweetbreads on a serving platter and drizzle your sauce all over them. To finish your plating, you can add a little flaky salt as desired.
Where to Buy Sweetbreads
If you wish to try out sweetbreads, there are various places you can find some. Try online meat stores, supermarkets, or your local butcher. You might want to try your butcher early in the morning before they sell out as they do so very fast. When you go shopping for sweetbreads, go for those that look fleshy, white, and firm to the touch.
If you don’t want to go into the trouble of cooking them, you can eat them from many fine-dining restaurants. If you are ever visiting Argentina or France, consider trying out this delicacy which is popular in these countries.
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