Sweetbreads and the Tailend of Mardi Gras
Thursday, February 7, 2008
I used to wonder who ate the first sweetbread. Now that I'll eat almost anything at least once, this kind of question seldom arises,although some of those things floating around in the carnita pot did give me pause. I've always found that if you can get someone to try them before you tell them what they are eating, you'll get a convert. I guess you oughtn't try this on a vegetarian. I love all the innards except chittlin's, although I did have an interesting brush with them under the guise of "andouillette' in France once. Sweetbreads have an enormous fan club around here. They are one of a handful of things that people will actually stop me on the street or in the grocery store to inquire about. I think Crook's must be the only place around where you can get a whole plateful of them.
The cooking process is somewhat involved. I've never seen fresh sweetbreads, so first they must be thawed. I do this by putting them in cool water in the refridgerater overnight. The next day, I remove their wrappers (each comes in its own little package)and give them a brief soak in more cold water to which has been added a little vinegar- hardly any. Too much will cause them to begin to break down. This soaking draws out some of the blood and other impurities. Then they are gently simmered in chicken or veal stock that has been seasoned with chopped celery, tarragon, whole black peppercorns and just a little salt. Sweetbreads come in all different sizes, so you need to examine each one for doneness.Start looking for results after ten to twelve minutes for the small guys. They usually, but not always, begin to float as they approach readiness. They are very squishy when raw but when the cook they firm up. Test each one for firmness at its thickest part. It should feel set all the way through. Gently pry apart the lobes of larger ones and look to see if any remaing blood looks cooked. The membranes and connective tissue on the outside should appear opaque white as well. When all these appetising tests have been completed, remove the sweetbreads from their broth and submerge them in icewater until they are completely cold all the way through.Save the broth for your sauce. Then,they must be pressed for a few hours to remove any absorbed liquid. I put them, in one layer, in a stainless steel pan. Another pan goes on top,which is weighted down with a couple of clean bricks or heavy cans. Back into the refrigerator for at least three hours. Then they must be peeled. What you want to discard will be obvious- membranes, veins, gristly looking stuff. I add all this back into the broth. The sweetbreads will naturally break apart as you clean them into different sized pieces. I like to leave them as large as possible, any tiny crumbs I will save in the freezer to add to pates or to use in wilted salads later.
At this point they are finally ready to be served. I generally either dip them in egg and bread crumbs and fry them in butter or finish them in a cream sauce (made from the poaching liquid) with oysters and/or country ham. They go great guns for about a month, then the public loses intrest and they go away for another year.
We had the pleasure this week of hosting Alexander Julian's sixtieth birthday party. The guests were to attend a dance after dinner, so we needed to serve things that were quick, while still sort of fancy. For one of the selections, I chose Jambalaya Deluxe. The basic recipe I inherited when I came to this job in 1993. I made it deluxe by adding the salt cured duck legs that are a byproduct of our winter menu. With or without the duck, the jambalaya is delicious. I couldn't pass the pan without a spoon. It is, alas, also really good cold, straight from the fridge the next day.
It was our last little bit of Louisiana for this year. One night after staff dinnner someone remarked that the desserts that we had tried were really more like a cocktail hour. There was Louisiana Wiggle, soaked in bourbon; milk punch sorbet, full of bourbon; bananas Foster with rum and creme de banane.
What is it about these people, that they can lead us to misbehave so? Where else in the world would the suggestion to try a Hurricane at every bar in the neighborhood in one evening sound like a good idea?
posted by Bill Smith at 5:04 AM