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.