Contains: Nightshades, offal, Is: Gluten-free and seafood-free if you use tamari instead of Worcestershire sauce (the latter contains fish sauce as well as gluten). Quick and easy.
The first stage of cooking sweetbreads (which are the thymus or pancreatic glands from young animals) is to simmer them lightly in acidulated water with some added salt for 15-20 minutes. Then you can do any number of things with them. They are hard to come across, but when I do find them I buy them – I don’t expect to find them again for awhile, as these were purchased in Pennsylvania Dutch country back in 2019. (Lamb ones are serviceable, but nowhere near as good.) My parents bought them often in New York City when I was growing up.
(Some people will pre-soak them in milk, potentially to draw out any gamey-ness. Neither my family nor I ever have, as we’ve personally never noticed that taste in these. YMMV.)
At this point, you can do just about anything you want with the sweetbreads. I took about half of what you see in the above photo, and went with breaking that up into pieces, and pan frying it with those peppers and mushrooms. There are a large number of choices you can cook this with, of course, plus additional flavor profiles for seasonings to use. Sweetbreads are a mild meat – as with pasta, properly prepared sweetbreads will take on the flavors of what they are cooked or marinated in.
Prep Time: 15 minutes.
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes.
Rest Time: Not needed.
Serves: 1 – 2.
Veal or Calf Sweetbreads, with Peppers and Mushrooms
- Approximately half a pound of veal or calf sweetbreads (weigh of the gland, raw). I started with a whole pound, planning to use only a part of this for the recipe proper below.
- Two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or the juice of one lemon.
- 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt.
- 1 bell pepper of any color, de-seeded and sliced. (Optionally add in some of any spicy pepper for heat, if desired.)
- 2-4 ounces fresh mushrooms, chopped (any type you like).
- (Sub or add to the above veggies with anything else which occurs to you that works in a stir fry.)
- 1 tablespoon of high temperature cooking oil. (Avocado?)
- 2-3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (Substitute with gluten-free tamari, if needed for gluten-free or for seafood-free)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Aleppo chili.
- Salt and pepper as desired (I left out adding salt, as it is in the Worcestershire sauce).
Cover the sweetbreads with water in a pot, adding the vinegar / lemon juice and the salt. Bring to a boil and immediately turn the temperature down to the barest of a simmer. Allow to simmer 15-20 minutes.
Remove the sweetbreads from the pot, rinse, remove fat nodules, and any larger bits of membrane, breaking up by hand these glands into smaller segments – the way these glands are constructed, you’ll find that natural lines for breaking them up will be apparent by and large.
If, as I did, you simmered excess to what you needed for the recipe, set the other portion aside for future recipes or meals. (Ie, for one pound of original raw weight, you want to use in this recipe what would be approximately 1/2 of that – 0.5 pounds of what would have been that weight prior to the simmer).
Then, heat a skillet to a moderate heat with the cooking oil. When hot, add the vegetables and cook until almost at your preferred level of texture. If you are working with vegetables other than the two I used here, you may need to add them at different times to prevent something being over-cooked. Stir often.
Add the sweetbreads, and the seasonings (Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, salt and pepper). Continue cooking, stirring, for another 3-5 minutes.
Plate, and serve. A salad is lovely alongside.
(And so, what did I do with the rest of the sweetbreads, since I hadn’t used the entire pound or so in this dish? I simply snacked on them a little at a time, room temperature or cold, after that initial simmering step, until they were all gone. A little vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, well-diluted in water as a marinate was fine enough for me,)