I've only ever eaten sweetbreads twice. First time they were as delicious as they can be: juicy and rich to the point of creamy. The other was the exact opposite: they were coated with a too thick a layer of breadcrumbs and fried until they were so dried I could have just as well been eating week-old fish fingers.
Until now I've never cooked sweetbreads either, as they're not something one easily comes across - on a restaurant menu or at the supermarket. I'm not going to lie: they do take a fair bit of time. And work. But their subtly sweet flavour and juicy texture are something quite... unique.
Now, for those not in the know, the sweetbreads have nothing to do with sweets or bread. They're a gland-like organ found in the young mammals' breast cavity. I've also read that their texture is reminiscent of the brain. In case you weren't put off by the two previous sentences (please don't be - they're such a delicacy!) keep reading and do give them a try.
The sweetbreads I was given were lamb (very small, that is) so any ideas of breading them were swiftly abandoned. So, after blanching them I coated them in seasoned flour and fried them instead.
The taste is very mild but so juicy and rich you want to serve them with something with a bit of acidic kick to it. Like this dream tartar sauce (though this piccata sauce would work, too!) I made a little lighter tartar sauce by substituting half of the mayo wit Greek yogurt, but feel free to make it all-mayo (just make sure it's good mayo!). For herbs you can use just parsley, or use some dill and/or tarragon in the mix, too.
Sweetbreads are covered by membrane that needs to be removed and this is the most laboursome part of the process. Whether you trim off the membrane after soaking or after blanching is entirely up to you. Soaking in cold water cleans the impurities (and gets rid of any residual blood) and makes the membrane more visible. I find the membrane is easier to remove after the blanching - at this point it shows up as an opaque layer on top of the nuggets. PS. Be prepared for sweetbreads falling apart as a result of the process- don't discard the smaller morsels either!
As a starter (for instance on a bed of some leaves) serves 4
500 g lamb sweetbreads
Soak the sweetbreads in plenty of cold water with salt (a couple of litres of water and a couple of tbsp salt) for 2-3 hours or until the water runs completely clear, changing the water every half an hour.
Blanching the sweetbreads:
3 l water
3 garlic cloves, bruised
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
3 tbsp salt
2 bay leaves
Measure the ingredients into a pot and bring to boil. Then add the drained sweetbreads and cook, in a simmering water, for 7 minutes until they're firm. Drain and cool. The quickest way? Shock them in ice water. In case you didn't trim off the membrane after the soaking, do it now.
Frying the sweetbreads:
a couple of dl flour (for gluten-free alternative use rice flour), seasoned with salt and black pepper
oil, butter (or mix of them)
Toss the sweetbreads in flour and fry (either shallow-fry on a hot pan or deep-fry in hot oil using a heavy-bottomed pot) until they have a nice golden colour. Drain on kitchen towels and serve with tartar sauce.
1 dl mayo
1 dl Greek yogurt
1,5 tbsp finely chopped cornichons
1,5 tbsp finely chopped capers
1,5 tsp finely grated lemon zest
0,5 tsp juice from the cornichon jar
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
0,5 tsp-1 tsp mustard
salt, white pepper
Combine the ingredients and let sit in the cold for at least half an hour before serving. Check the taste and season as needed.
And as for wine pairings - oh, are you spoilt today! We don't just have one or two - we have three! That's how we assessed the bottles we opened for lunch last weekend. Perhaps we got really lucky? Perhaps we've actually learnt something? Perhaps it doesn't even matter...?
Of the whites this, Italian Sartori Marani Appassimento, was our favourite. Its citrusiness really came to life when paired with the tartar sauce,brightening the whole dish.
PS. For more info on the wine and its Garganega-grape do check out our previous blog post where we paired this with a sublime mango, chilli, ginger and coconut chicken!
Though we really did like this one, Chilean Viña Tarapacá Reserva Chardonnay (oh yes, Chardonnay seems to have made a triumphant comeback from its long exile into our kitchen this spring!), too.
Especially after having breathed for a while it's more robust personality and gentle oaky spiciness gave body to the combination, making it just a little... more interesting.
This is something we absolutely loved. Brancot Estate South Island Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir is a grape where we make an exception to our normal preferences and tend to venture out into the New World. Their varieties have the sort of warmth, ease, lightness and berry-infused richness that goes so well with our palates and the food we cook. New Zealand in particular has proved to make some great wines. Our particular favourite is Jackson Estate's VIntage Widow Pinot Noir - a killer combination with Middle Eastern flavours.
While Pinot Noir is a delight on its own, too, something magical happens when paired with foods with acidic, salty components such as tartar sauce as those components tame the last tannins producing a harmonious, round experience. So, when choosing a wine for anything with cornichons, gherkins, olives, or even chillies... don't ignoir the Pinot.
ANYONE FOR SECONDS?