Sweetbreads a Complete Guide

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Widely considered as the king of offal and quite rightly so. Mild and delicate they lend themselves to a huge number of recipes from the simplest Italian to the most classic of French. Sweetbreads consist of two parts of the thymus gland, the throat and heart. The throat bread is longer than the heart bread and they are both treated to the same preparations. In some quarters the stomach or pancreas bread is referred to as a sweetbread but I have not come across them.

Sweetbreads require an initial soaking for two to three hours refreshing the cold water as necessary. Whilst soaking prepare a light stock of unsalted water flavoured with bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, peppercorns, a couple of cloves, a piece each of carrot, celery and leek (precision is not paramount) and bring to the boil. Add the drained sweetbreads and lower the heat to a gentle simmer, cook for no more than four minutes. Remove the sweetbreads and leave to cool until they can be handled comfortably

The fiddly bit now ensues, taking a small sharp knife remove as much of the sinew and bits of gristle as is possible, patience is a pre-requisite for first timers but the end result is worth the trouble. Once peeled the sweetbreads can be used in many ways, quickly pan-fried, served in a variety of sauces or mixed into a forcemeat or terrine. Purchasing sweetbreads usually involves placing an order with your butcher and it is likely that you will get lambs sweetbreads rather than calves. Do not be perturbed as they are considerably cheaper and in my view equally as good.


Fritto Misto of Sweetbreads

Content and picture Miles Collins