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Cooking sweetbreads


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What are the general guidelines for preparing, handling and cooking veal sweetbreads?

I cooked them for the first time last week end, and I was frankly not pleased with the result. As I was going through the preparation and cooking process, here are some of the more important aspects of it that I seemed to have problems with:

- Removing the membrane, how much of it?

The cookbooks I have recommend after soaking in cold water that the outer skin and other membrane be removed from the sweetbreads. In doing so, I found that as I was removing the outer layer, there was also a fair amount of connective membrane running though the entire piece. I realized that the more membrane I was removing, the more I was breaking the single piece apart. I thought leaving whatever I could not remove (by fear of undermining the integrity of my whole piece) would not be an issue after cooking. It turned out that whatever membrane I had left out had a slightly unpleasant "chewy" quality.

- Is flattening the sweetbreads before cooking an important step? Why?

- Does it have to be quickly poached before it is seared? Again, this was instructed in several recipes I read. Aside from poaching alone in a flavored liquid such as stock, I have seen recipes recommend that the sweetbreads be allowed to sit in a cool place for several hours in its own cooled poaching liquid. I personally found that quick poaching undermined the lovely texture of the sweetbreads more than it actually helped.

- Should pan searing be very brief over high heat to avoid overcooking?

Thanking you in advance for your input :smile: ...

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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The classic procedure is:

- soak in milk (or water) overnight

- poach in a court bouillon or light stock for 20 min, cool

- remove the sinew and membrane

- roll in cheesecloth and weight

- then finish, usually by slicing, often flouring/breading, and saute.

Re removing the membrane, I would say if you can remove it, do. If the membrane is too thin to remove without damaging the product, leave it. If you're weighting and pressing, you can 're-form' the big piece even if it came apart.

Re pressing, this is supposedly done to improve the texture, it's in all the classic recipes, and it's the only way I've ever done it. I'm just now reading Fergus Henderson's (excellent) 'The Whole Breast', and he doesn't bother - his method is just rinse, poach 2 1/2 min, cool, de-membrane and saute the little nodules. I like the sound of this approach, and will try it next time.

Re poaching before searing, this does seem universal, although times vary from a couple of minutes to 20 min. I cooled it out of the poaching liquid - not sure if that makes a difference, but I think it would be better dry for saute.

Re searing, you can saute at medium heat and take it all the way in the pan, or sear for 1-2 min and finish for 5 min in the oven - a good approach if you want to make a pan sauce.

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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I have roasted them raw and sliced them as you would a steak, i have also poached for 4 minutes at a simmer, then shocked them, weighted them overnight(this removes the excess water that they seem to absorb from the poaching liquid, however you can leave a bit of the liquor in the hotel pan you are pressing them in to marinate overnight) them clean them, I completely agree that at some point you have to say enough is enough with the membrane because it is what holds it together. The main point is to remove the Large portions of congealed fat and Some of the membrane while leaving them structurally intact. You also want to cut the vein out of the middle as you would foie. I must mention that this process leaves the breads tender and about MR-M depending on the location of the meat( the stuff in the middle will be less cooked). But once this process is over then you portion them and either bread them and saute them or I hate to reveal this beautiful secret, scewer them and put them on the grill(with a nice sherry/shallot marinade perhaps?).

The complexity of flavor is a token of durable appreciation. Each Time you taste it, each time it's a different story, but each time it's not so different." Paul Verlaine

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i agree with chef. the membrane on sweetbreads purchaced from a good soarce usually has very little membrane to remove. one thing i want to add is to season with salt and pepper and just lightly flour them. if you bread them your going to lose the delicate flavor. another tip is to saute in hot oil and butter,,,reduce heat and cook real low on each side to get a nice crunchy crust. yumm :wink:

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Thanks for your responses so far, it is very helpful.

Given what has been said so far, which step or aspect of its preparation you think is most critical in maintaining (or giving?) the delicate and moist texture that good sweetbreads should have?

Edited by zeitoun (log)
"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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I have always prepared sweetbreads the same way and very happy with the results. I poach them in a light stock until just firm, letting them cool in the cooking liquid. Remove any membrane that is on it, the ones I get tend to not have many, so it is a quick trim.

I then weight them down overnight in the fridge until I am ready to prepare them. I think this is a matter of taste personally. Some people light the unweighted lighter, flufflier texter, while others prefer a firmer bite. I am of the latter myself.

For searing the off, I learned a trick some time ago that I still use to this day -- Wondra flour.

A quick dredge in some wondra and then a sear in some melted butter will make an amazingly crisp product.

If you really want a treat, try larding the sweetbreads with some bacon before searing it.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2


I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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I was always afraid of all offal other than foie gras till I had sweetbreads.. now they rank as one of my favorites.

I have been taught to handle them as such for crispy sweetbreads:

-With a fillet knife, remove the membrane, as you would skin a fish, membrane side down against the board, pushing the knife through the flesh while trying to keep it flat, taking off as little as possible of the actual sweetbread flesh. Cut into desired pieces, keeping in mind that they will shrink slightly when cooked.

-heat a decent amount of butter (enough to shallow fry), and when the butter is foamy, add in the sweetbreads. Season with kosher salt. Stir constantly, as they will start to turn milky white.

-Once they start to brown slightly, season again with kosher.

-When they are a nice mohogany color, season for a third and final time, deglaze the pan with the juice of a lemon or two, and drain through a chinoise.

-eat them up!! I have never had anyone tell me that they didn't like them when cooked this way. The butter goes to noisette, so that gives them a nice rich nutty color.



Owner, Big Wheel Provisions


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My own experience has been that restaurants get all the perfectly round-shaped sweetbreads from milk-fed calves which hardly ever need soaking. Ordinary butcher shops sell all sort of straggly parts which need soaking, pressing, and careful cleaning.

Blanching is really helpful for firming them up irf you are going to cut in thick slices on the bias, dust with flour and roll in beaten egg and breadcrumbs before frying.

Pressing is necessary for certain dishes when you aren't using all the above protective coating because they are so fragile.

For a gentle braise, I don't press them


“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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I cooked these at home for the first time a few weeks ago. Previously I only ordered them in a restaurant. I used Batali's recipe from the BABBO book. Like you I was nto sure how much membrane/sinew to remove but I just used common sense and removed as much as pissible while keeping the thing intact. His procedure was as follows:

-soak/clean in water


-remove membrane and sinew

-dust with Wondra flour

-panfry until the juices run clear which is not too long

I was very happy I tried this at home. They were very cheap and tasted excellent. Here is a pic of the finished dish.



E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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My own experience has been that restaurants get all the perfectly round-shaped sweetbreads from milk-fed calves which hardly ever need soaking. Ordinary butcher shops sell all sort of straggly parts which need soaking, pressing, and careful cleaning.

You are raising a good point. It seems that the sweetbreads one might have at high end restaurants is the top rounded - and better - portion of the gland (the nut) which as you said has little membrane and is more perfectly shaped. The sweetbreads i got was clearly not that. I got the cheaper stuff (btw I still can't get over the fact that it cost me only $2.50 for about a pound).

Although soaking and removing membrane seem important, it seems that after reading everyone's comments, the less i manipulate them, the better off i'll be.

Elie - Babbo cookbook was not on top of my list (i have to buy all of Paula's books first :wink: ) but i think I'll make an exception on this one. Your dish looks fantastic.

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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What type of sauce are you planning if any at all? Wine, sherry, mushrooms, chicken liver (foie gras if you're feeling lik splurging), herbs? Preparation method breaded and pan fried, pan seared with butter, braised...?

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles


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What type of sauce are you planning if any at all? Wine, sherry, mushrooms, chicken liver (foie gras if you're feeling lik splurging), herbs? Preparation method breaded and pan fried, pan seared with butter, braised...?

I actually served this with a simple mushroom scented veal stock reduction. As a side i just added braised endives (idea is from Keller's cookbook).

For the actual cooking, i (again) used one of Keller's methods: soak in water, quick poaching before removing the membrane, press it, quick poaching again in light stock and vermouth, let sit in cooled cooking liquid for 6-7 hours, pan sear in butter and canoila oil with lard.

I think i'll bread it next time, skip the second poaching, and go directly to pan searing. I'll also try it with some greens as a salad. I'm open to all kinds of ideas..

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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Truffles can be good with Veal sweetbreads. You can add it to a foie gras sauce if you're feeling extravagant.

I'm simple, prefer mine seared in butter, white wine, finely chopped parsley and little more butter to finish at the end. The tang of the wine offsets the richness of the sweetbreads for me.

If you bread them I would suggest sauce gribiche.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles


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When you buy sweetbreads ther are a couple of things to ask about:

(1) are they cut from the pancreas or the thymus gland?They will look similar, but the thymus gland (near, or part of the pituitary) is more desirable, and more likely to yield a smooth creamy texture. When the calf grows beyond a certain age, there is no more thymus left. Pancreatic glands will generally cost less.

(2) Some packing plants sell the glands packed in a light brine. This should be removed with several soakings in water, under some weight. You may buy it from a tray, or off the shelf, but it may have sent to the shop in a bucket of salt water.

The soaking action will remove some blood as well, and improve flavour.

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I am not very familair with sweetbreads having only eaten them once, and am very enticed by all of the talk of them, but I wonder where can I purchase such jewels, certainly not Dominick's, but Whole Foods or a butcher? Where do you guys get yours?

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the whole point of blanching the breads is to prepare them for the secondary cooking method ie pan-fry, grill, etc. and to pull some sinew off, but techniquely you can roast them from the raw state in a pan just like a piece of meat. the blanching method eliminates a little room for error because by the time you sear them properly they will be perfectly cooked.

by the way truffles go with EVERYTHING :rolleyes:

Edited by ChefSwartz (log)

The complexity of flavor is a token of durable appreciation. Each Time you taste it, each time it's a different story, but each time it's not so different." Paul Verlaine

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  • 9 months later...

bumping this thread up because i got sweetbreads yesterday from a butcher here. but they came in a just-under-1-lb vacuum-sealed package. me and the mrs sure don't need to eat a whole pound of sweetbreads right now--can i freeze them, or will that ruin them?

edited to update: well, I took two of the pieces and soaked, poached, cleaned and pressed them. i vacuum sealed the other and froze it, so we'll see what'll happens with the freezing. i think i'm going to crust them with ground hazlenuts before frying.

Edited by mrbigjas (log)
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As a resident of one of the flyover states, sweetbreads are no where to be found. In a "town" of 40,000 there is not one butcher save in supermarkets. Fortunately, I have a friend who works for a large purveyor to restaurants and he gets them for me in ten pound boxes (frozen). I don't perceive any negative effect from them being frozen.

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As a resident of one of the flyover states, sweetbreads are no where to be found.  In a "town" of 40,000 there is not one butcher save in supermarkets.  Fortunately, I have a friend who works for a large purveyor to restaurants and he gets them for me in ten pound boxes (frozen).  I don't perceive any negative effect from them being frozen.

That's really odd. Most places in the flyover states have wild game processors that do beef and pork during the rest of the year. They should be able to find some for you.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Sweetbeards are a delicate meat that require not just proper technique but that the sweetbeards be of top qulity for best taste. You need a butcher you can trust and talk to. For those of you who live in Manhatten the only butcher I now trust is a former chef, Pino who purchased one of the last Italian butcher shops in Greenwich Village a dozen odd years ago. He personally picks out his own carcasses at the wholesale market and "butchers" these himself, with the help of staff, all trained by him. He not only sells TOP Quality meats he can also tell you how to cook it all.The postage stamp shop is next to St. Anthony's church on Sullivan St. almost corner with Houston St. and right across the street is Joe's Dairy. While I now live in Mexico City I have dared to "smuggle" frozen product from Pino's shop every time I return. So far so good!

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It has already been mentioned twice here in this thread, but pan-roasting is a great technique for sweetbreads and one not used very often. Frying them lightly to a crispy state seems to be more of the norm.

Some years ago Daniel Boulud appeared on Julia Child's PBS show. He roasted veal chops and whole sweetbreads with trimmed vegetables, veal stock, and herbs. It was a beautiful family style meal, if your family's last name is Boulud I suppose. I pilfered this technique and recipe and everybody raved about it. The sweetbreads had a lovely texture and the sauce, a reduction of veal stock with butter, was enough to make everybody swoon. This video clip may still be floating around out there. In fact, try Julia's "Lessons with Master Chefs" video series and search for the segment. I think it's cut into two parts due to the length of the segment.

R. Jason Coulston


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ok anyone wanna help me with other parts of the menu?

sweetbreads, fried, with a sauce made of ... (i don't have veal stock at the moment; only beef, chicken and lobster). i'm thinking of a dish i had a few months ago at a restaurant around here called pif, where the sauce was verjus-based. but i don't know if i can get verjus on the way home. but because the sweetbreads are so rich, the tanginess of verjus really complemented them nicely.

i have some nice chanterelles and other wild mushrooms (big thick white stem, small grayish brown cap, not porcini, but i forget what the name was)--i was going to maybe roast them but maybe i'll grill them.

starch? vegetable? any thoughts?

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