When I first moved to France, I would see ‘Ris de Veau’ on many a menu and I had no idea what they were. My Mother-in-Law warned me one day over lunch that it was not some kind of veal risotto dish which I had imagined, but instead it was Sweetbreads!
I must admit that even armed with that new information, I was still hazy on what these actually were. I think I even thought they were brains for a while. Either way, I most certainly avoided them at all costs.
Until one day, some arrived before me as a part of a set menu at some restaurant somewhere and I guess on that particular day I was feeling brave so I tried them. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
So, let’s clear up the confusion. The reality is that sweetbreads are either the thymus glands or the pancreas. Re-naming them as ‘sweetbreads’ is just a cunning plan to make them sound more palatable! (And quite rightly so!)
They are delicate, delicious and subtle. They have a very light texture…I would say they are as soft as eating cooked foie gras but with a much milder flavour. They don’t taste ‘offaly’ or feel rubbery which I think is how most of us would imagine them to be. Once I faced my fear and realised what I had been missing out on, I knew that I wanted to cook some for myself.
Luckily my beef and veal farmer friends over at Grasspunk had just what I needed and I was able to lay my hands on some top quality veal sweetbreads with ease. I just had to work out what an earth to do with them!
And they are certainly a scary ingredient at first! Having spent some time trawling the internet reading about the various processes required in their cooking, I set about my task with grim determination.
You see, sweetbreads are in no way pretty or familiar. In their raw form, they are fairly slimy, like alien matter. First I blanched them which made them firm. Then I pressed them and then I peeled off the membrane that covers them. Finally dusting them in a mixture of flour and Panko breadcrumbs and frying them until golden and a little crispy. They were completely transformed from their rather unpleasant original form!
I served them sitting on top of simple French style peas and wilted gem lettuce with a dash of lemon, cream and garlic. They really were fantastic and no longer scary at all! In fact they had emerged as part of a great looking dish with wonderful flavours and textures.
So, my advice is this…don’t over think them. It’s best not to dwell on the realities of their natural state. Instead, master your fears and get stuck in to these wonderful delicacies and you won’t regret it.
Veal Sweetbreads with French Style Peas & Baby Gem Lettuces
(Serves 2 as a generous starter)
200g veal sweetbreads (mine were large and oval therefore the pancreas variety)
milk to cover
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp Panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 baby gem lettuces, sliced into ribbons
2 handfuls of frozen peas
100ml chicken stock
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tsp creme fraiche
The process of preparing your sweetbreads begins by soaking them in enough milk to cover them, in the fridge for 24 hours. This removes any traces of blood. Once that is done, drain the milk away and blanch them in boiling water for roughly 5 minutes. They should firm up and be easier to handle after this.
Once firm, plunge them into ice water. Then drain and lightly dry them. To press them, I placed them into a plastic container with another one on top and them put in some cans to add weight. Place back in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Then remove the membrane. I found this quite tricky…gently use your fingers and softly rub away any membrane you find. I think the thymus glands have more membrane than my pancreas ones. Don’t over work this stage or you risk ruining their shape and form.
Then I cut my sweetbreads into 8 nice nuggets. Mix the flour, Panko breadcrumbs and seasoning together and lightly coat the sweetbreads. Fry them for a few minutes each side in a non stick pan in the hot olive oil, until golden.
Meanwhile prepare the lettuce and peas. Start by melting the butter in a pan, add the shallots and garlic and gently fry for 2 minutes. Then throw in the sliced gem lettuces and cook until wilted. Add in the peas and the chicken stock and quick squeeze of lemon and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Season and stir in the creme fraiche.
Divide the lettuce and peas into two bowls and place your sweetbreads on the top. Honestly – totally delicious!
With such an unusual ingredient, I was at a loss as to which blogging challenges this recipe might work for but I have come up with three where I think it fits the bill.
First off, I am really happy to be able to enter this into the Shop Local Blogging Challenge hosted by the lovely and talented Elizabeth from Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary. These veal sweetbreads came direct from my farming friends who live just 20 minutes away. I am so lucky to be able to tap them up for fantastic and unusual ingredients. So thank you to Jean & Brent from Grasspunk!
Also, I am entering this dish into my old favourite Javelin Warrior’s Made With Love Mondays as it was made entirely and bravely from scratch!
And finally, I am popping this into Recipe Of The Week hosted by Emily from A Mummy Too. I do hope this one doesn’t scare you off Emily!