Sweetbreads, the Supreme Offal We've seen everything good today ...... we even ate pancreas! - Ferris Beuller

Picture of fresh sweetbreads on cutting board
Sweetbreads are the ultimate organ meat, highly prized by chefs and connoisseurs for their mild flavor and velvety texture. They are the most versatile of offal meats and can be prepared using virtually any cooking method. They can be sautéed, braised, poached, grilled, fried, and even roasted. In addition to center of the plate entrees, sweetbreads can figure prominently in hot or cold appetizers, stews, salads, pates, terrines, and sausages.

These tender and delicately flavored meats come exclusively from young animals, most often lamb or veal. Veal sweetbreads are the most commonly used by chefs today. Sweetbreads come in two varieties. The first is the thymus gland, also called the throat sweetbread orgorge in French. The second variety is the pancreas, also referred to as the stomach sweetbread or noix in French. The stomach sweetbread is most prized because of its larger size and oval shape. It can easily be presented whole or sliced into medallions. Some claim that the throat sweetbreads have less flavor than their counterparts. Because the throat sweetbreads are elongated they are usually reserved for dishes like stews and ragouts where they will be presented in small pieces. Lamb sweetbreads are much smaller and have a less delicate flavor compared to veal sweetbreads.

Regardless of how they will be cooked and presented, all sweetbreads must follow the same initial preparation. First, sweetbreads should be soaked in cold water for a minimum of several hours (many chefs soak them up to 24 hours). This removes any traces of blood. This soaking , or degorging, produces a whiter and milder tasting sweetbread (both of which are desirable characteristics).

After soaking, the sweetbreads should be blanched. Begin by placing them in a pot and covering them with cold water. (Some chefs add a touch of salt, and lemon juice or vinegar to the blanching liquid.) Bring them to a boil. If they are stomach sweetbreads, allow them to simmer for a few minutes.

blanching sweetbreads going into ice bath
Remove sweetbreads from the blanching water and plunge them into ice water. Blanching further removes impurities, makes them whiter, and firms the tissue so that it can be easily trimmed and portioned.

pulling silver skin from sweetbreads
To trim sweetbreads, remove any visible veins, gristle, or the thick exterior membrane that envelops the organ. This is best done by using your fingers.

chef pressing sweetbreads
After blanching and trimming, the sweetbreads should be pressed. Lay them on a clean towel on a tray or shallow pan. Do not stack the sweetbreads. Place another towel on top and cover with another tray or pan of the same size.

Place a heavy weight on top of the last tray. A heavy pot filled with water is ideal. Place the weighted sweetbreads in the refrigerator and allow them to be pressed for at least two hours. (They can be pressed up to 24 hours.) After pressing, the sweetbreads will be firm enough to slice into medallions by cutting on a slight bias. These medallions can then be easily sautéed, fried or grilled.

sweetbreads served in dish
Sweetbreads can be accompanied by either a white or a brown sauce. Classical white sauces for sweetbreads are usually based on veloute sauce(white stock thickened with roux). Two popular variations of veloute sauce are supreme or allemande sauce. The most popular brown sauces are Madeira sauce and truffle sauce (sauce Perigeaux) .

However sweetbreads are prepared, their delicate flavor and rich texture make them the elegant highlight of any meal.