Wednesday, 17 October 2012


I love being in Paris for lots of reasons, one of them being the ready availability of offal. In my local market we spied sweetbreads, ris de veau in French. I would like to bust several myths concerning sweetbreads -

 #1 sweetbreads are testicles - they are not. Testicles are testicles. I just read on a blog this week that sweetbreads is another term in English for testicles, it is not! Sweetbread is an old term from the sixteenth century, "sweet" refers to the this odd bits's prized status and bread comes from the Old English word broed meaning flesh. 
#2 sweetbreads include the pancreas - they do not. Unfortunately, in North America the pancreas is often sold as a sweetbread, even by butchers who should know better.

Sweetbreads are the thymus gland which consists of two parts, the throat sweetbread and the heart sweetbread. They are only found in young animals as the animal ages the thymus gland atrophies, which explains why sweetbreads are in short supply and expensive.

The sweetbreads in my market were the desirable veal heart sweetbreads, bigger and more compact. 

The first step is to soak the sweetbread in cold salted water. Then poach it in a court bouillon, a fancy name for a liquid flavoured with vegetables, herbs and spices, see Odd Bits. This takes about 5 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the sweetbread. Test by pressing with your finger tip, they should be firm but still springy. You can see that the sweetbread becomes more compact. Slide the sweetbread into ice water to stop the cooking. When it is just cool enough to handle, remove any fat, gristle and as much of the membrane as you can.

Place the sweetbread in a pie dish lined with a clean towel, fold the cloth over the sweetbread and place another pie plate on top. Add a weight to lightly press the sweetbread and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours to firm up. Normally my sweetbread would fall into small pieces as I usually only find the throat ones in Toronto. The heart sweetbread stays intact so I decided to sauté it whole. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, browned it gently in butter turning and basting until it had a good colour, but was still springy, about 12 minutes.

You could add a sauce, but when the sweetbread is this good it needs nothing else at all.


Peter M said...

Hi Jennifer, I share your taste for sweetbreads and often get mine here in Toronto from Greek butchers.

Question, why do so many folks place weights on the poached sweetbreads?

Carol said...

I love sweetbreads and found a good source at a farmer's market that sells them for 1.99 lb. In Rome last year I had delicious lamb sweetbreads.

Amarantha said...

Oh my, that looks incredibly good. I've only had sweetbreads in crumbed-and-fried form. I shall have to try them this way if I find some at the market.

I have had veal and lamb ones; I don't know if they were throat or heart, though.

Jennifer said...

Hi Peter, I believe they are pressed to make them more compact and easier to slice. I've always pressed them, but the sweetbread on the blog really didn't need it. My local restaurant serves them whole and I am sure they don't press or even blanch them. They are fabulous but serve a whole heart sweetbread as 1 portion. That's a lot of eating.

Jennifer said...

Hi Carol, you better keep that source secret, that is very cheap. I love lamb sweetbreads too.

Jennifer said...

Hi Amarantha, you can usually tell by their shape whether the sweetbread is a throat of heart one. The throat ones are long and break into smaller pieces more easily. The heart one are round and compact.

Lucas said...

Hello Jennifer, my name is Lucas, i'm from Argentina. In my country sweetbreads are called "mollejas" and they are -for most of the people consideration- one of the best part of "asado" (barbecue). If you cook them very slow with a good wood fire (or coal) the results is delicious. Seasoning only with salt and lemon (or maybe "provenzal") Like you said, form the heart are the best sweetbreads.

Jennifer said...

Hello Lucas,
Those sweetbreads sound delicious. A local restaurant here in Paris, cooks them whole in butter, as I told Peter and they are amazing. I saw more sweetbreads this week but I already had too much food in my fridge. Perhaps I will cook more next week.

AML said...

That looks incredibly delicious, i haven't tried one but absolutely tempting.

Jennifer said...

You should try them, they are a very special treat. We are planing on having them at our local restaurant where they cook the whole heart sweetbread in butter. Amazing!

Anonymous said...

Hello Jennifer I'm making my way through your 'Odd Bits' and it is wonderful. I buy lamb sweetbreads through an online supplier for £12.95/kg. I simply wouldn't know the difference between a pancreas and thymus gland. Any tips? This is who I buy from:


Jennifer said...

It's a tough question. Usually price is an indication and buying from a reputable source so I am sure you have the real thing. The pancreas substitution seems to happen more often on this side of the Atlantic. The problem that many people perpetuate the myth that the pancreas is a sweetbread, even butchers!

Post a Comment