Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sweetbreads: In search of the perfect imperfection

In my experience, sweetbreads are one of the hardest offal to deal with. Heart is pretty consistent, brains no problem, livers are liver, and pretty much everything else is pretty consistent. Sweetbreads however are always different. No matter what supplier your getting them from or how much your paying your only guarantee is that they will be different everytime even the same batch will have its inconsistencies. For me its the most intimidating offal of them all to get right. And when they're right, they're great.
We've tried everything, soaking in milk, butter milk, purging, brining, paoching to all different consistencies, peeling before, after, filleting, pressing, smoking, sauteing, frying, braising, sous vide...flour, cornstarch, flour and cornstarch....the list goes on.
nothings ever consistent enough to make me happy but we deal with them the best we can.
Sometimes they are so tense and chewy and other times they are creamier then brains.
Our technique as of today is we get them in, we begin the soaking process of multiple changes of water, a night in milk for good luck, a rinse and then a 4 hour brine in salt and water.
We used to poach in bouillon, but found the mirepoix flavor too strong, so then we poached in just milk. Better, but still inconsistent because of poaching temps and human error. We then tried Hestons sous vide directions.....67 degrees i think for like two hours... what a load of crock... maybe they eat sweetbreads like that in the UK, but not here in my kitchen.
So we toyed around and concluded that for 30-35 minutes at 59.5 degree's sous vide gives us the best results.
Now, unlike a pork belly, your not going to get the same results time after time. Most cookbooks dont tell you about all the possible things that one should take into consideration or all the possible things that could go wrong. Every things usually written in stone leaving only the "season to taste" up to the cook. So regarding the sweetbreads, use common sense. Sweetbreads come in all different sizes from both the heart and neck cuts. Sometimes they are mangled holding on to eachother with just a bit of membrane, other times they're beautiful plump apple cuts. They may seize up after cooking or they may relax. And sometimes they may be so tense onced cooked you could bounce them off the wall!
Divide them by size in your vac pac bags. Smaller the piece, shorter the cooking time. Large lobes should be broken down where they naturally seperate while keeping they're integrity. These will take longer. Even when sous vide, these fuckers are inconsistent, so i wish you the best of luck.
Onced cooked , shock them in ice water.
Remove from bag and press between two sheet trays. Its important to put a good amount of weight on them. This process is not just to remove blood and moisture from the sweetbreads but also to break down the protein structure so that when you fry or sear them they dont seize and curl up like squid or cuttlefish. Once pressed, the sweets should be relaxed and the outer membrane should be easier to remove.
Some sweets have insane veins running through them that are really strong and will be chewy as hell is you leave them in. Something we've been doing recently is to fillet them like a chicken breast and remove the main vein that runs through them.
The filleting technique is not really mentioned anywhere in books or on the net and yet i think it is one of the most important steps. Sure you can try and pull it out from one end but goodluck in getting it all.
Once filleted, cook as you wish. Our frying time has been reduced my 3/4 of the time we used to now that we sous vide and fillet. Just enough to warm through and develop a nice light crust. As always, new techniques and findings will continue to arise with this amazing but inconsistent delicacy.
Like a steak, let your sweets rest for a minute before they make it out to the table.


Peter M said...

Gently poaching in water and vinegar and then cooking as you wish seems to work best for me. I prefer them grilled.

Grant van Gameren said...

thats the way i originally poached them, i've never had grilled sweetbreads now that you mention it and we have one at the cafe... i will try it tomorrow!

Ken Bowie said...

Now I am going to have to try grilling them too...youv'e started a fad!!

Russell Hews Everett said...

I third(?) grilling them, there is a little Uruguayan place in Miami that grills them to perfection. They get crunchy and just a bit burnt, but remain creamy inside.

Grant van Gameren said...

i will have to try that at the next family bbq.
Do you marinate them? oil them?

chris windus said...

I agree 100%, for something seemingly simple there is a lot more thought that has to go into your preparation when you throw in a level of randomness that comes with sweetbreads. Our preferred method starts with a 10% salt/water brine for 24 hours. Soaking in milk for the same time period works fine as well. Then we poach in a simple court bouillon, then to ice bath, then press for at least four hours. Separate according to size, season heavily and sear. The into simmering white veal stock(brown fine as well) consisting of caramelized celery root, carrot, onion, laurel and thyme. cover with plastic wrap and foil then into 350F oven for 20 minutes for medium sized lobes. Less for smaller and maybe a minute or two more for nice large ones. Then remove the foil and plastic and put directly in the cooler until cooed completely. Then we remove, portion, sear(there is debate about dusting in seasoned flour but forms a nice crust if you do), finish with a little coat of buerre monte and warm through in the oven. We end up with a great crust, creamy center, and a clean flavor. None of that irony-bloody-strong offal flavor that usually turns people away from them. We always have some on hand and use them frequently for amuse. This catches people off guard, most would never eat it around here(Orlando,Fl) until it is presented to them as a gift from the chef. It's a fine line though, we roll the dice every time it goes out but that is true with just about anything you send to someone when you don't know their preferences. Some don't believe it when they eat it and it's delicious. Some don't want to touch it. What can I say, your loss but that the game we play.

Unknown said...

Thats a really interesting way of preparing them. as much work and steps involved as ours.
i like the "braised texture" sweetbreads can achieve albeit, i find they are super delicate when chilled.
i did a braised stwe with cockscombs once, they were delish.
similar to squid it either needs to be cooked quickly or a good 40 minutes...

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kristina said...

hi grant,

great blog! just a quick question. i was at terroir last week and jen agg did a bitters workshop and talked about the new italian vermouth that you guys serve in some of your cocktails. i'm writing a small piece about that workshop and was wondering if you could tell me the name of the vermouth....thanks!

Grant van Gameren said...

it is called Antica formula.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi Grant,

I gather there are two kinds of sweetbreads: The thymus gland (known as throat sweetbread) and the pancreas (stomach sweetbread).

Which do you use?

Grant van Gameren said...

Usually most suppliers don't separate them , so we get both in. I don't notice a huge difference in the two. When they're good sweets, they're great , when they're shit they are all crap. I've payed the 27 bucks a kilo for apple cuts, but even they can be crap at times.

aubergine said...

Try it simple breadcrume it and you will love it.
I'm doing in the moment some experimenting with sous-vide cooking it.
I soak it in saltwater over night,
Next day I clean it then soak it for four hour in milk.
Put it in vacuum bag and cook it dry only with a little bit pepper for 3 hours on 153 Fahrenheit.
Let it cool and grind it finely in meat grinder. mixe it with cream of milk, egg white and Transglutaminase.
Put it on try 1 inch thick.
After refrigerating it over night, cut it 3 by 1 1/2 inch sqares.
Serve it one breadcrumped and one pan fried, with soft cheese or green peper sauce.
I serve it with an mussel and cream sauce . (Extracted from cooking mussel dish).
Nice site yours.
My site www.aubergine.com.do