The sweetest cut

Posted on January 9, 2006 by Aun

I really love sweetbreads. I love them most when they’re sautéed in butter, served crispy on the outside and tender (and sometimes creamy) on the inside. I love that duality of textures and I love their taste, somewhat meaty but also somewhat nutty. That said, while I’ve always eagerly ordered them in restaurants, I’ve always been a little terrified of trying to prepare them at home.

First of all, while I know that sweetbreads come from either the pancreas or thymus gland of calves or lambs, I have no real idea what these organs do or really even look like. Not knowing much about them makes knowing how to prepare them a bit of a mystery. Further, from all I’d heard, cooking internal organs was a somewhat tedious and exact process. Unlike working with the more popular cuts of meat, you can’t just grill, roast or braise cuts like sweetbreads. Preparing them would mean learning a whole new series of cooking processes, which a lazy boy like me wasn’t about to do. Especially not when these cuts aren’t cheap and chances are high that I’d ruin my first few attempts.

This past week, however, I became inspired to try making them for two reasons. The first was a quick conversation with J of Kuidaore. She’s as passionate about sweetbreads as I am and, like me, hadn’t yet tried her hand at it. The second was the latest copy of Gourmet magazine. To celebrate their 65th anniversary, the magazine’s editors decided to select their favorite recipes from each of their 65 years, recreate them and run them in one beautiful issue. The recipe representing 1973 was Sweetbreads Meuniere. And reading it, they seemed remarkably simple to prepare.

Inspired, I consulted a half dozen cookbooks and discovered that the process is easier than I thought. You just need to soak the sweetbreads in cold water, poach them in water or court bouillon, and then clean them properly. Once you’ve done this, you can then cook the sweetbreads in a variety of ways. As mentioned, I like them best browned in butter.

Ready to give it a go, I called my favorite butcher last Friday afternoon and reserved 500g of milk-fed veal sweetbreads. I also, despite S shaking her head incredulously at me, decided not to follow one of the many recipes I’d read, but try and amalgamate what I’d learned and come up with one of my own. A simple one, of course. The recipe I came up with was Sautéed Sweetbreads with Curry.

Essentially, I’d fry my sweetbreads–dusted very lightly with flour, curry powder and salt–in brown butter. I’d plate this with some beautiful, tiny yellow tomatoes we’d just bought at Tekka market and some fried, crispy curry leaves. I based my curry–again, much to S’s shaking head–not on an Indian or a Southeast Asian recipe, but on the recipe for curry made at Harry’s Bar in Venice. It’s more of a curry-enhanced sauce than it is an Asian curry, chock full of ingredients; it’s creamy, clean, subtle and (to me) utterly delicious.

Fortunately, the recipe seems to have worked. I’d even go so far as to say it was delicious. S, who approached the dish a tad skeptically, wiped her plate clean… so at the very least it was edible. Most importantly, though, I feel that I’ve just managed to clear a personal culinary hurdle, learning to cook something I’d always been afraid to make at home.

Sautéed Sweetbreads with Curry
Serves 4

Sweetbreads
500g milk-fed veal sweetbreads
1 small onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 whole clove
salt
flour
curry powder
curry leaves
2 tablespoon butter

Soak your sweetbreads in cold water for 2-3 hours, changing the water frequently until there’s no pinkish color in the water. Fill a large pot with 2-3 litres of water; in this, place the onion, bay leaves and clove. Bring this to a gentle simmer. Drain the sweetbreads and poach them in the pot for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, quickly take the sweetbreads out of the bouillon and plunge them in a bowl filled with ice water–this is to stop them from cooking. Pat them dry and then remove any obvious bits of skin or membrane. Cut the sweetbreads up into small pieces, around 3 inches across. If you can, flatten the sweetbreads a little. Mix together some flour, curry powder and salt (to taste) and use this to dust the sweetbreads. Melt the butter in a very hot frying pan. When it begins to brown, fry your sweetbreads and curry leaves. You should cook the sweetbreads on each side for roughly 2-3 minutes, or until they take on a lovely golden brown color. Drain on paper towel of a metal rack before serving.

Curry Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, washed and thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 green apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons brandy
salt
pepper
sugar (optional)
3-6 teaspoons curry powder, to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock, heated
1/2 cup sweetbreads poaching liquid
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion, leek and carrot in the oil for 6-8 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add the apple, lower the heat a little, and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the apple slices are very soft. Pour in the brandy and carefully flambé the ingredients in the pan. Then mix in the flour, curry powder (which should be adjusted to your own taste–because I like a slightly stronger flavor, I add 6 teaspoons), some salt and pepper (again, to taste) and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Whisk in the chicken stock and sweetbread poaching liquid. I like to add a teaspoon or two of sugar, but this is optional. Cook uncovered over very low heat, again stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. Then strain the liquid into another saucepan. Stir in the cream and simmer for another 10 minutes.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. J January 9, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    hi, GREAT picture ;) i am beyond inspired here – you’re absolutely right about venturing beyond comfort zones…am rather peeved we missed out (had eaten by the time i saw your message)… re:curry flavour – genius! for some bizarre reason, this post has me craving some curry feng although it features no sweetbreads whatsoever…

  2. Rani January 9, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    sorry i post a comment again to make the link clickable:

    hi! where did you get sweetbread in singapore?

    btw perhaps you should also sometimes make entry about weird food adventure..
    my extreme food adventure can be found here:
    here and here

    and the not so extreme ones:
    here and here and here

  3. gerald January 9, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    I just had sweetbreads for the first time and have fallen in love with the taste and texture, but couldn’t fathom cooking it myself. I’ll have to try your technique sometime.

  4. radish January 9, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    God, do I love sweetbreads – and I’m thrilled there are others out there who do too. I’m trying to find a place that will sell them in NYC, once I do, I’ll be making it!

  5. Colin January 9, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    Hey CH, I adore sweetbreads, and the best I ever had were in a restaurant in London; even better than a few I sampled in France. Yours had me drooling over my keyboard. Like Rani though, I beg to ask, where do you find sweetbreads in Singapore?

  6. Ann January 10, 2006 at 12:00 am

    Do you realise it’s a crime to post such yummy pictures?

    tsk tsk. I just found your site and I think I’m hooked.

  7. Ozzywee January 10, 2006 at 4:22 am

    hi, u mentioned ringing up ur butcher? do u get ur regular prime cuts of red meat from him too? do they offer prime meat cuts in local wet markets?

    oh and btw i love the plating of ya curry sweetbread dish, the curry leaves were jus so fitting in the whole plating! brought out the color contrast and served its identification purposes.. nicely used!

  8. Ivonne January 10, 2006 at 6:24 am

    First of all, beautiful photograph!

    Secondly, good for you for giving sweetbreads a try at home. Like you I love them but I haven’t yet worked up the courage to try preparing them myself.

    Maybe now I’ll give them a try!

  9. Guru January 10, 2006 at 6:33 am

    I´ve been visiting your blog in the last weeks and I must say your photos are WONDERFUL and you´re not a cooker but an artist!!!! Congratulations and thank´s a lot for sharing!

  10. Chubby Hubby January 10, 2006 at 10:05 am

    J: Thanks. And rest assured that I’ll be making these again. You’ll definitely be able to try them soon. ;-)

    Rani: I bought my sweetbreads from the Swiss Butchery on Greenwood Avenue. If you want them, you should call ahead. Tel is 64687588.

    Gerald: Thanks for visiting. Good luck with it. Just remember to soak and poach them.

    Radish: I’m sure there are a number of top butchers in NYC that sell them. Doesn’t hurt to call around a bit first though. Good luck.

    Colin. Thanks! Swiss Butchery. I get all my red meat there. They have lovely meat here and best of all, they stock odd cuts, like sweetbreads of veal cheeks. But you have to ask for them or better yet call ahead and reserve. They don’t put these on display.

    Ann: Thanks so very much!

    Ozzywee: Thanks. As mentioned above, Swiss Butchery is the best for all meat. I don’t buy meat at the wet market. A tad scared of that. Actually, the crispy curry leaves was S’s idea, and you’re right… it really elevated the dish and gave it the right color contrast. It was also delicious paired with the rest of the food.

    Ivonne: Thanks so very much.

    Guru: Thanks. It’s great to be able to do something I love, and cooking and snapping photos are both such things.

  11. isabelle January 10, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    hey, can you share the recipe for the madeleines in your post from August 11, 2005?

  12. Chubby Hubby January 10, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    Isabelle, it comes from Patricia Well’s Paris Cookbook.

    I scanned the pages and posted the recipe here:

    recipe link

    I adapted the recipe to make the vanilla coffee madeleines by adding 3 tablespoons of espresso and a half teaspoon of pure vanilla essence instead of the lemon rind called for.

    Cheers!

  13. Robyn January 11, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    That’s one byoootiful photo. And not just of sweetbreads, but I think it should earn extra points because of that.

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten sweetbreads. Hmmm. Mmm. HM. Kind of want some now.

  14. isabelle January 11, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    oh wow. thanks! do you know where to get madeleine tins in singapore?

  15. Chubby Hubby January 11, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Robyn: Thanks so much. I like the photo too. One of my recent favorites.

    Isabelle: The best place to check is Chong Trading, a baking supply store on the second floor of The Adelphi. I prefer the mini-madeleine pans. Good luck.

  16. bea at La tartine gourmande January 12, 2006 at 12:12 am

    Miam miam (French for yum! ;-))
    I love sweetbreads too. Your recipe looks so appealing (you are a great photographer). Very nice composition.

    And on another note, I am trying to subscribe to your blog via RSS but cannot find the RSS link. I must be blind! Can you help?

    Merci

    Bea

  17. Chubby Hubby January 12, 2006 at 8:32 am

    Bea: Thanks so very much. Oh, I’ve set up a link on my sidebar so you can subscribe to my feed. Cheers!

  18. Helen (AugustusGloop) January 12, 2006 at 10:36 am

    Nice work (as always)! Am catching up on all my blog surfing–you have another new blog header! Geez… go away for a month and everything changes! =)

    Congrats on your two nom’s, and good luck with the Bloggies too!

  19. Chubby Hubby January 12, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Helen: Thanks and welcome back. Well, I figured a new year needs a new header. Although, truth be told, I’ll probably change it next quarter.

  20. bea at La Tartine Gourmande January 13, 2006 at 4:12 am

    Thanks a lot Chubby Hubby. Done!
    Oh, and before I forget, I tagged you for the 7 Meme event, if you want to participate as I am an avid admirer of your blog! and photographies!!

    Check it out here:

    http://www.beaskitchen.com/blog/2006/01/12/tagged-to-7-meme/

    Cheers

    Bea

  21. nha January 13, 2006 at 4:22 am

    You’re such a great photographer and all the food you make look DELICIOUS! I love your work :) Glad I found your site. Keep posting and I’ll keep visiting :P

  22. Anonymous January 17, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for the providing the necessary push for me to try making this at home. I followed the recipe in Gourmet and it came out really well.

    And the store three blocks down stocks sweetbreads the majority of the time.

    Next time I’ll try your recipe.

  23. MM January 19, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    I adore sweetbreads and did not even realise you can get them here in Singapore! I will definitely be trying this. Yums!

  24. Chubby Hubby January 19, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    Nha: Thanks so much. I hope you keep coming back.

    Anonymous: That’s awesome that the Gourmet recipe worked for you. Congrats.

    MM: That’s great. You should definitely give it a try!

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