Thursday, July 26, 2012


Maybe I should have taken pictures. No, that would have scared you off.

Sweetbreads are sometimes called "gateway offal" because they're pretty damned tasty if done right, not from anywhere particularly disgusting on the animal (thymus, which disappears after the animal is around 6 months old), and aren't a particularly weird texture.

I had them for the first time a few years back at a popular joint in these parts - The Black Hoof. The chef, Grant van Gameren, has since moved on to Enoteca Sociale, and brought his sweetbreads with him. This is now one of my favourite restaurants (the fact the rest of the menu is delicious doesn't hurt either). The first time I had sweetbreads, I literally moaned. That "holy shit this is amazing and words can't describe it" ooohmmmm that comes unbidden when tasting something amazing.

I now tend to order them whenever they're on a menu. They never come close to van Gameren's. They're sometimes quite good, but sometimes also quite bland. I was particularly disappointed when I had them at Carnevino in Vegas. A great restaurant, incredibly bland sweetbreads.

The ones I love are smoked. I don't see this done much anywhere else. They're often sautéed, or roasted, and they lack that depth of flavour smoking gives.

Naturally, I had to try to make my own.

I took a shot and tweeted @GrantVanGameren for tips on how to make them amazing. He replied with some helpful tips, all in 140 characters.  I got a little giddy.

Astoundingly, they didn't turn out as a complete mess, despite being previously frozen, and sitting thawed in the fridge for two days.

It's a bit of an involved process, something I didn't know before deciding to make them. Nothing difficult, just lengthy.

First I soaked them in cold water in the fridge for 24 hours, changing the water once (should have been more, but I forgot). This is necessary to draw out blood and other unpalatable bits aparently.

Then I blanched them for a few minutes in chicken stock. Laziness too over here again and I used a cube to make the stock instead of thawing out some of the 15L of real stock in my freezer.

So far, stellar start.

After blanching,  you have to remove the membrane. This was fairly easy at this point. I just used my hands, as tools could result in losing precious meat.

Then the pressing. The sweetbreads were put on a paper towel on a baking sheet, then another towel was put on top, and another baking sheet pressed down with cast iron pan.  This setup sat in my fridge for another 20 hours.

It was Wednesday now, I had bought them to make on Saturday. Whoops.

At this point, it was finally time to finish them off.

Out came the stovetop smoker. It was suggested to me to use light, cold smoke, but I lack the ability to cold smoke in my condo. So to compensate, I didn't cook them all the way through when I blanched (when are you supposed to cook something entirely in a blanching anyway? Isn't that just boiling at that point?). I used 2/3 apple wood and and 1/3 oak, cut up the sweetbreads, and hot smoked them for 15 minutes. Off the heat they came, and I tested one. A bit offaly still, but cooked through with some smoke flavour. I left the lid closed off the heat to get some more smoke in 'em.

While that was going on, I mixed some flour, corn starch, salt, pepper, smoked paprika and a spice blend (Pensey's Northwoods Fire) (1 cup : 1 tsp each) in a bowl. In another bowl went a cup of buttermilk, an egg, and 1/2 a cup of water.

Then I decided on a sauce. Mayo, smoked paprika, chili powder, chipotle chili powder,  cayenne pepper, salt, garlic powder, coriander seed, orange peel powder, a dash of hot sauce, and a squeeze of lime. Tasty southwesterny sauce.

In a cast iron pan I heated about 1/2" of peanut oil to 350 F-ish.

I took out the smoked sweetbreads, ran them through the buttermilk wash, then a quick dredge in the flour, and into the oil 3 or 4 at a time. Since they were already cooked, the goal here was just to get a golden fry on them. So maybe a minute total, turned halfway through.

After a couple minutes to cool on a rack, it was the moment of truth.

They were damned tasty. The texture was excellent, there was no offal taste, and I was happy. The only complaint would be the smoke was bit too strong. Next time, no oak.  All apple, or maybe some maple. I'll probably also avoid letting them continue to smoke after they come off the heat.  Then they'll be awesome.

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