Sweetbreads might be one of those “love them or hate them” foods, but pan-fried and finished with a lemony butter sauce, served with caramelised onions, they are a real treat.
For years I shunned sweetbreads: no rational reason other than the thought of them! But what a mistake that was: the crispy exteriors with their creamy melt-in-the-mouth centres, and delicate flavour are an absolute joy to eat. And they are so inexpensive too.
I now rate sweetbreads as the king of offal, in the same way I rate a scallop as the king of seafood. They are wonderful as a starter but make great treats when served with drinks: perhaps on some toasted brioche…..
Preparing and cooking sweetbreads
Sweetbreads are easy to prepare and just involve a couple of simple stages.
(I) Soak them in cold water for a few hours or even overnight, changing the water part-way through. The soaking will draw out any of the impurities in the sweetbreads.
(II) Poach the sweetbreads for about a minute in barely simmering water and then plunge them into cold water and leave them to cool in there.
(III) At that point, peel off the membranes – which will come off easily- and set aside until you are ready to pan-fry them.
NB: if you leave the membrane on, when you fry them the membrane tightens up around the sweetbreads and gives an overly-firm texture.
Onions on the side!
These onions are seriously to die for! Soft, buttery, slightly sweet and with a nice vinegary tang.
Simply slice them and pan-fry them gently in butter for about 20 minutes: just until they start to caramelise. A slash of white wine vinegar stirred in adds a lovely sharpness: you can add more if you want a sharper taste.
Recipe: pan-fried sweetbreads in a lemon, garlic & caper sauce – serves 4 as a starter
- about 400g lamb sweetbreads
- cold water for soaking
- cold water for poaching
- 4 tablespoons plain flour
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder (or smoked garlic powder!)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- a little butter and vegetable oil for frying
- see above
Caper and lemon sauce:
- about 60g unsalted butter
- juice of 1/2 lemon (or more if you prefer!)
- a tablespoon or so of capers
- 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
- a little sea salt and black pepper to season
- a few chopped chives
(1) Soak the sweetbreads in cold water and place in the fridge overnight. The next day, poach in barely simmering water for a minute and transfer to a bowl of ice cold water. When cool, carefully peel off the membranes and discard them.
(2) Dry the sweetbreads and mix the flour, salt, garlic powder and cayenne together in a bowl. Toss the sweetbreads through it, making sure the sweetbreads are lightly coated in the flour.
(3) Heat a little butter in a frying pan until it starts to sizzle. Add the sweetbreads, spaced a little apart, and cook for a couple of minute son each side, or until a deep golden brown. Transfer to a warm plate.
(4) For the sauce, add the butter to the pan and melt. Add the garlic and cook for a few moments. Add the capers and lemon juice, along with salt and pepper. Taste, adding more lemon if you think it needs it.
(5) Put the sweetbreads onto serving plates, spoon over the sauce and sprinkle over the chives. Serve with some of the onions.