Monday, February 4, 2008

Roasted Sweetbreads with Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Braised Belgian Endive, and Black Truffle Sauce

My friends, Deanna and Lucas Manteca, own a wonderful little restaurant called Sea Salt in Stone Harbor, NJ. I spend a lot of time there in the summer and it's where I fell in love with sweetbreads. I'd seen sweetbreads on the menu in other restaurants over the years, but never felt compelled to order them because I was kind of afraid of them. Two summers ago, Lucas put together a tasting menu for my birthday dinner, and sweetbreads was one of the courses. To be honest, I can't remember how he prepared them, but I remember thinking, wow. Just wow. I'd had no idea they'd be this good. Texturally, I had a moment where I thought I might get squicked out, but the moment passed rather quickly, and I was hooked. From that moment on, I ordered sweetbreads whenever I could. Last summer, Lucas did a sweetbreads eggroll, and it blew my mind.

But making them has never been a priority item on my culinary to-do list. I never had the desire to seek them out, buy them, or figure out how to cook them. Why? Have you SEEN what sweetbreads look like raw? They're kind of gross. Wanna see?

Oh whoops. That's not sweetbreads. It's Sweetness from Roll Bounce. My bad.

Here's what sweetBREADS look like (photo courtesy of Getty Images):

Pretty, huh? So, what are sweetbreads? Well, they ain't sweet, and they sure as hell aren't bread. When I was younger, I used to think sweetbreads was a place of pain, as in, "I'm gonna kick you in the sweetbreads." Actually, sweetbreads are the thymus, a gland located in a young calf's chest and throat area that helps ward off disease. This gland disappears once the animal ages past 6 months old. There are two cuts to sweetbreads -- the throat cut and the heart cut. The heart cut is more round and even, and the throat cut isn't. There isn't a definitive answer as to why this gland is called "sweetbreads." Some experts date it back to the late 1500s, and say that the word "bread" was used interchangeably as the word "morsel" and perhaps that's where it originated.

I seem to recall an article about sweetbreads in the food section of The New York Times that had a line in it that went something like, "Sometimes people have no idea what they're eating, and it's better that they just don't ask." I'm not sure I agree with that, but to each his own I suppose. I'm a fan of sweetbreads, so I was happy to make this dish? Were my neighbors happy to eat it? Read on, my friends, read on.

I went to DC's Eastern Market to purchase my sweetbreads, brought them home and soaked them overnight in the fridge in a bowl of cold water:

I changed the water once before I went to bed, and again when I woke up, then let them soak for a few more hours. I then brought a large pot of water to a boil, lightly salted it and added the sweetbreads:

I simmered them for a few minutes, drained them, and placed them in an ice bath to cool:

I drained them again, removed any excess membrane (there wasn't a lot) and compressed them between two towel-lined baking sheets. I weighted it with two plates and put them in the refrigerator overnight:

The next day, I heated some oil in a deep sauté pan, seasoned the somewhat-flattened sweetbreads with salt and pepper, then sautéed them on one side for 5 minutes, followed by 3 minutes on the other side, until they had turned golden brown:

I drained off some of the fat, then added turkey stock (I was still out of chicken stock - must make some this weekend), some vermouth, and these lovely aromatics:

I brought this up to a simmer and simmered it for about 5 or 6 minutes. I took the sweetbreads out of the cooking liquid, discarded the solids from it, then poured it in a tall, narrow pitcher so the fat could rise to the top. I scooped out the fat and returned the sweetbreads to the liquid and put them in the refrigerator while I finished the rest of the dish.

The next step was to make the braised endive. I chose a red endive instead of the traditional yellow ones (because the only yellow ones I could find had brown spots all over them and looked like death warmed over). Red endives were created by breeding a regular endive with an Italian chicory called Treviso, so it has a little bit of chicory taste to it, but the upside is that it's not nearly as bitter as endives can sometimes be. They're also gorgeous:

I removed one layer of the outer leaves and cut off the bottom and cored it a bit. I plugged the cored area with kosher salt, salted all the endives, and stood them up for 30 minutes:

They look like little penguins, don't they?

I rinsed them to remove the salt and heated a little bit of canola oil in a pot. I browned the endives, added some turkey stock to cover them. I covered the pot with a parchment lid and simmered it for 40 minutes to fully cook the endives. You'll see the braised endive in the final plating photo.

Next, I made the truffle sauce by combining some veal stock and a few drops of white wine vinegar in a small saucepan and brought it to a simmer. I reduced it to a sauce consistency (much like the truffle ragout for the truffle custards) and removed it from the heat:

Next, I cut my slices of lovely, lovely applewood-smoked bacon into small strips (or lardons) about 3 inches by 1/4 inch:

I put the lardons into saucepan, covered them with water, and brought it to a boil:

I drained the lardons and rinsed them with cold water, then drained them on a paper towel.

This next part is where I rightfully took some creative license. The final step of preparing the sweetbreads involves my boyfriend, bacon, but The French Laundry Cookbook actually suggests using a larding needle to insert the bacon pieces into the sweetbreads. Ask my Aunt Phyllis sometime about my awesome sewing skills and you'll understand why I changed this step. Suffice to say, I nearly failed 7th grade home ec because I sucked so bad at sewing. I hated it so much I waited until the night before our wraparound skirt (I KNOW!) was due, and went to my aunt's house to finish it on her sewing machine. She and my uncle were all "will you be okay here by yourself if we go out for dinner?" and I could barely hear them over the loud gunning of the sewing machine's foot pedal because I figured the faster I sewed, the faster I'd get done, quality be damned. I had no idea what the hell I was doing; I just cut and sewed willy-nilly, and ended up with bloody fingers and glaucoma (okay, maybe not glaucoma) from all the finish work I had to do by hand. My proud moment came when I got a D on the project. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in my entire extended family to get a D in home ec... or any subject for that matter. So, yeah. Me and sewing? Not so much. I hate it as much as I hate softshell crabs.

The French Laundry Cookbook gives detailed instructions on how to sew the bacon into the sweetbreads, but thankfully ALSO includes a sentence that reads: "If you do not have a larding needle, the lardons can be added to the skillet and cooked with the sweetbreads." I read it as if the first draft of that text most certainly involved Thomas Keller rolling his eyes with a heavy sigh as he dictated to Michael Ruhlman: "If you are an unskilled non-sewing loser named Carol Blymire who is the shame of her family and also her Amish homeland because of her non-sewingosity, then I guess you can take the easy way out, because clearly, Carol Blymire, you should not ever be around needles, even really dull larding needles, because we really don't need your fingers bleeding into this dish, Carol Blymire, or having it look even more hacked up than it probably eventually will because we know you, Carol Blymire, oh yes, we know how you roll."

Whew. Crisis averted. And also, I guess I won't be auditioning for Project Runway anytime soon. Or ever.

After I'd preheated the oven to 350 degrees, I heated a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat, then added some canola oil and butter and let it warm up. In the meantime, I cut and trimmed the sweetbreads into six small brick-like shapes (approximately 2x3" each). When the oil and butter started bubbling, I added the lardons, then the sweetbreads. I basted the sweetbreads with the liquid, then placed the uncovered pan in the oven for about 15 minutes, basting the sweetbreads twice during that time and turning them over halfway through the cooking process.

While they were cooking, I tossed together some truffle slices, minced chives and white truffle oil in a small bowl. I also warmed up the endives during this time. I did not cut them and twist them like a turban, as the book suggests. I don't know why I bailed on that step. I just did. I also reheated the truffle sauce, stirred in a bit of white truffle oil, as well as some salt and pepper.

Time for plating! First on the plate went the truffle sauce. On top of that, I placed the sweetbread, with some bacon. Next to that was the endive. Lastly, I topped it all off with the truffle slice-chive mixture. Have a look-see:

It doesn't resemble the photo in the book, and in fact, looks bigger than it actually was. But who cares, because this was one of the best dishes I have ever made. I had some very reluctant tasters who were not really thrilled with the idea of eating sweetbreads, but once they took a bite, they were pleasantly surprised. My neighbor's parents and brother were in from out of town, so there were six plates and 10 or 11 people around the table. We all shared nicely and only fought a little over the bacon. The kids were prepared to hate it, and had been practicing their best gagging noises, but didn't have to use them. The 11-year old, "G" said, "This is soooo much better than I thought it was going to be." This is the same kid who called me Christmas Eve all nanny-nanny-boo-boo-bragging to tell me he ordered braised veal cheeks at Eric Ripert's new bistro here in DC. He actually ate three or four bites of the sweetbreads before he let his uncle have a taste. I love it.

The texture of the sweetbreads was really nice. Not chewy, and not spongy at all, and everything that accompanied it was outstanding. The endive was hearty and robust, and the truffles just capped it off with a light richness (if that's possible to imagine) that added such a nice finish. We were all off to another neighbor's party that night, so I didn't serve any wine with this, but if I had, I probably would've chosen a Pinot Noir or a Syrah.

I'd make this dish again, no question. And, if any of you are up for an adventure in eating, try this. It's not that difficult, and the end result is outstanding.

Up Next: "Liver & Onions" -- Sautéed Calf's Liver, Vidalia and Red Onion Confit, Onion Rings, and Vinegar Sauce

Quick Note: You can still vote for me at Culinate's Death By Chocolate contest. To do that, click on this lovely little graphic (if you don't, I will follow through on my threat to sing "No Diggity" into your voicemail for hours on end; watch me):

Sweetbreads from Union Meat at Eastern Market in DC
365 organic canola oil and butter
Bacon, produce and herbs from Whole Foods
Noilly-Pratt dry vermouth
Black truffle from D'Artagnan
Saveurs white truffle oil

Music to Cook By: The Roll Bounce Soundtrack, natch! I supplemented it with some additional Kool & The Gang and other awesome 70s disco, R&B and funk, and had a hankerin' to head to my local roller skating rink.

Read my previous post: White Truffle Oil-infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


I *love* your blog. I'm sure you don't need me getting all fangrrl over you, but I had to tell you. Yours is the only food blog (okay, only blog period, unless you count CuteOverload but that's not technically a blog) at which I habitually laugh out loud. You're hysterical :)

Also, I love the food, love the pics, love the whole idea.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic! I sure don't have the French Laundry in my budget, but a girl can dream... and live vicariously through your blog, thanks!

Aoife said...

That looks delicious -- although, with those amazing ingredients, how could it not? I just tagged you for Seven Random Things, and I hope you'll participate!

Anonymous said...

For some reason, I always thought sweetbreads were brains. Some kind of gland is a little less scary. Still not sure I'll ever order it, but good to know. Thanks!

Mary Coleman said...

I remember when I first had sweetbreads. My mother is an awesome cook and decided to serve sweetbreads at a dinner party. Nashville, Tennessee in the seventies was not the hotbed for sweetbread eating. She cooked them in a fabulous red wine, mushroom cream sauce. They were to die for.
She didn't tell anyone what they were eating. They all cleaned their plates. There was plenty left over, which I ate in the middle of the night sitting in front of the fridge with a fork.
I hadn't thought of cooking them myself, but you've convinced me!

Anonymous said...

I've done them once, in a cooking class at CIA. I think it was a meal in the style of 'The Mansion at Turtle Creek', but it could have been Paul Bocuse.

In anycase I liked them well enough to finish them. Perhaps if I can find them I can do them for my wife, who does like them.

Me, I'm looking forward to your liver and onions as we are having such later this week,

Shapoonia said...

Another yumbolicious meal that I long to duplicate at home! I love your blog and writing - I'm trying to play along at home and make some of the receipes from the FLC and Bouchon. I may try this one, as I love being adventurous. I just won't tell my husband what sweetbreads are until he eats them. = ) One question - did MY boyfriend bacon get crispy or no? Anyway, can't wait for your next blog entry!

Anonymous said...

I've realized over these past few weeks that there is a certain excitement on Tuesday mornings that you will likely have a new post up. Such a nice thing to look forward to.

Larding needle? Learn something new everytime I visit here.

Roller rinks, like drive-ins, maybe something that will have to be explained to the next generation. Playing video games in roller skates...good times.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the ick factor is far too high on this one for me (yes, I know, my texture issues bring me hurtling perilously close to the autism spectrum). But I think I found your new nickname, Sweetbread!

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm, sweatbreads. You make it look easy. Don't feel bad about the sewing. Sewing is monkey business as was 70s disco (awesome 70s disco = short playlist). Let's go roller skating in Napa!

Can we skip the freaking liver? Please?

Anonymous said...

I've seen a simple sweetbread dish once before, but never in an amazing dish such as this. When I was in Viet-Nam, my Aunt would hunt down a sweetbread from the meat market and chop it up and marinade it in ginger, chives, garlic and fish sauce. She would then cook it in a pan and let all the fat release, then toss in some mustard greens for a quick sautee . The whole family would eat it with hot rice. Everyone loved it!

Tara the Foodie said...

You are killing me with the "no diggity"! haha... That was the jam back in the day. However, I was more of a "Shot through the heart, and you're to blame" kinda gal.

Speaking of sweetbreads, I just recently tried them in two different restaurants, one of which being Michael Symon's Lola Bistro here in Cleveland. I LOVED them! Now I want to make my own. Yours look fabulous. It's nice to see someone like you that will put in the time to make some really great food. Too many people are in a rush in the kitchen these days.

Tempered Woman said...

Is it weird that while I was reading your Thomas Keller riff to Ruhlman that he was totally using a Tim Gunn accent??
It's not that difficult huh? Your idea of easy peasy and my definition of easy peasy are obviously from different dictionaries. Way to tackle sweet breads and I think it's great you have so many considering making it themselves.

Julie said...

I've been enjoying your blog,but this is my first time commenting...I was curious about what kind of truffles you order from D'Artagnan. I want to spring for something, but not sure if the cheaper or canned ones are still good...any thoughts? Ever since I tasted chicken liver, I'm all over the organ meats. This dish looks great!

Carol Blymire said...

Dirishazuri: Aw, thanks. :)

Shapoonia: The bacon got semi-crispy. It wasn't soft or mushy, but it wasn't crunchy-crispy. Somewhere in the middle... which was fine with me. Oh, and Bacon wanted me to let you know he's done with you, and he's allllll mine. So, step off. ;)

RT: I agree. Roller rinks and video arcades (and drive-in movie theatres) are a dying breed.... I'm glad I had them in my childhood.

TemperedWoman: THAT is hilarious! I've heard TK speak, and sadly, he sounds nothing like Tim Gunn, but let's pretend that he does because better that than Nina Garcia, yes?

Julie: I bought fresh black truffles from D'Artagnan when they were in season. Not sure if they'd still be carrying them now. I've never used cannned truffles, but would love to hear from anyone who has, and what the result was.

Anonymous said...

i need to get this cookbook so i can play along at home although i think i probably would have sat this week out, everyone's praise of sweetbreads notwithstanding. the copious amount of bacon does make it sound a little more palatable, tho.

i love the little endive army.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that unfortunately, I am still skeeved out. I think it was the photo of them in the pot in that lovely shade of purple. You do make it sound like I should at least want to give it a shot, still skeeved out!

Love the blog!


amber said...

ah, sweetbreads.

my husband and i were in vegas a couple years ago and we were at a fancy restaurant and i ordered a veal dish. listed in the description was "sweetbreads." and stupid me thought it was literally sweet bread. and as you point out, sweetbreads are neither sweet nor bread. :|

i ate some of it, but was so weirded out at not knowing what it was i was eating, that i didn't really enjoy it.

now that i know what they are, i'd like to give them another shot. defintitely put me in the category of wanting to know what something is before i chow down on it. :)

that final dish looks very yummy!

Anonymous said...

Nice memory for me. My Dad always cooked sweetbreads for me and seeing your pics of pressing them flat and soaking them made me hungry. He always cooked them with bacon and mushrooms in sort of a cream sauce. I haven't had them in years. We never could convince people we weren't "eating the sweetspot" =) He also made great liver and onions. Can't wait! Gina

Rob said...

I just discovered your blog and love it. I could completely picture the Thomas Keller/Michael Ruhlman bit about the larding needle.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so now I have a question. I did a variant on this recipe a month or so ago, and after blanching I had one hell of a time figuring out what was and was not "membrane" to be picked off. And then I wasn't sure whether the sweetbreads were pressed thin enough. It tasted fine -- actually, it would have been a lot better if I had been able to do the whole recipe without substitutions, but I was snowed in -- but my wife and I were left wondering whether the things had been pre-prepared correctly. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

No offal puns allowed? Bummer!

webhill said...

ohmigosh, I have been to Sea Salt! I was there this past summer with my parents and my husband and my three small kids, and I felt awful about dragging this motley crew into such a sweet little dining spot but they were so gracious about it, and the food was fabulous, and the female proprietress was so kind to my children. Not to mention the food was fabulous. I'm kind of bummed that 2008 will be the first year in 8 years that we aren't going to Stone Harbor b/c my in-laws just bought a place in Margate we have to go to, so I don't know if I'll get to go back this year. SIGH.


Carol Blymire said...

webhill: WOW -- small world! The woman you're referring to is Deanna. She and her husband (Lucas, the chef) own the place, and I just love them to bits and pieces. If you have the time to drive down there for dinner this summer, I hope you can. It should only take a half-hour on the Garden State. :)

Carol Blymire said...

Chris: The membrane is a thin coating of ick, is the best way I can describe it. It's almost like pulling shrinkwrap off something. As far as thickness goes, I enjoy it about an inch thick. Otherwise, I feel like it can't absorb what you cook with it, and sweetbreads are best when they get to soak up what you cook with them. Especially bacon!

Anonymous said...

Okay, like, wtf. My life is seriously getting in the way of my true calling, which is reading blogs, of course. I can't believe how many times you've posted since the last time I had the time to check in. Wow, that's a lot of time. I am humbled and embarrassed, especially since you've been cooking such seriously kickass stuff. *sigh* Do you think you could have a word with my bosses and talk them into giving me a little break to a. read more blogs and b. cook more sweetbread? I've cooked almost every part of that dish, the perigoux sauce from scratch, the braised endive, but never sweetbreads, and that's just wrong. Thanks Carol, I'm looking forward to your note's arrival on my bosses' desks.

SebsInFortLauderdale said...

Coming from a broad diet and exposure to food growing up I have always been open to new food. The stranger the better! I was raised on calamari but the family thought I was nuts for not only hunting snails (a host family affair) when I was an exchange student in France but that I relished eating them. Horse-steaks, goat-meat, guniea-hen, ox-tails and liver of all sorts have since become a delight for me! I even tried the gland of a bull in France recently, no not THOSE glands although I tried them in coffee in Tuscany, but that's another story!

Well this summer I had sweetbreads in France with truffle sauce. Four times, once a week. This Christmas the first course MUST be Sweet Breads! Mmmm, the texture is so creamy, and yes, the first bite is an interesting one but quickly fades into ecstasy! I think I might splurge on some truffle oil but use morels instead, wrap some of the sweet breads in prosciutto and use a few pieces of pancetta to Italianize it a bit. Mmm, maybe some Prosecco instead of white wine.

Haha, wish it was Christmas!