In Yorkshire, as a kid, offal was all the rage. Not because we were fancy-pant eaters with the adventurous tastes of the culinary Bohemian – no, offal was cheap; pig’s liver, lamb’s tongue, tripe (cow’s stomach lining), kidney and brains (not for the cholesterol sensitive) were all used. And then there were the lower-end cuts such as shin beef, chuck steak, belly pork, mutton (old sheep) and even a rabbit could be picked up very cheaply.
Roll on to 2015 in Melbourne, and I’m sure Melbourne is not alone here, and those face-screwing inducing cuts of animals are now costing a pretty penny, often in excess of the finer cuts of meat. And I’ll tell you why – because it has become trendy to use it through the proliferation of both the inspirational and me-too chefs out there.
But for me, off-cuts and offal should be up there with the best because cooked right, and that is vital, they are some of the most incredibly decadent and tasty parts of the animal. That is assuming of course that the animal has been treated with respect and looked after in a great environment whilst alive. Just think, offal accounts for about half of the edible part of an animal and is texturally diverse, nutritious and distinctly favour-some.
When I was younger butchers would virtually throw belly pork at you to make room for their more elusive and upper-market cuts. Now, people turn a blind eye to it’s sumptuous calorie busting fat content because it is an amazing cut and there isn’t one restaurant that doesn’t have their ‘succulent’ belly pork on the menu…and rightly so. By the way if you’ve never had beef cheeks, another of those ‘in’ cuts, before then check out this smashing little Bourguignon – if you have had beef cheeks then definitely check it out.
Today, however, if you’re not already acquainted, and if you are this may be a reunion with a long lost friend, I am going to introduce you to another truly incredible bit of the now trendy but-never-used to-be cut of offal – the sweetbread. My kids were so exited when I said we were having sweetbreads for dinner; the connotation in their minds was that of a great home baked dessert. Alas, when I explained that it was the pancreatic gland or thymus of a lamb or calf their noses screwed up and they walked away disappointed – maybe as you are doing now. Alas, I didn’t sell the dish that well to them but I was about to redeem things.
Bought fresh sweetbreads are plump, firm to the touch and should be pink bordering on white. They deteriorate quickly so they need to be used the same day of purchase to get the best out of them. They have an amazingly nutty creaminess with a soft meaty centre that even when overcooked can remain succulent. They do take a little bit of preparation, but trust me, please do, when I say that it is worth it. The recipe coming up is for essentially sweetbread nuggets with a chipotle mayonnaise – a brilliant snack, or if tarted up a bit with some cheffy presentation and a little touch of greenery can be used as a starter. Let’s begin.
Serves: 4 for a snack | Preparation: 1 hour soaking + 1 hour prep | Cooking: 40 minutes
1kg Fresh plump sweetbreads | Lamb’s or calf’s.
Large bowl 1% Salt solution | Enough to cover the sweetbreads – 10g of salt per litre of cold water – whisk to dissolve the salt.
For the Mayonnaise:
1 portion (About 275g) of mayonnaise | See here for the recipe.
2 Chipotle chillies | Use the tinned variety with adobo sauce.
2 tsp. adobo sauce | From the tinned chipotles.
1 lime lime juice | Squeezed.
Pinch Smoked paprika |
For the Sweetbread Nuggets:
2 Large eggs | Beaten.
1tsp. Five spice powder | Recipe here.
150-200g Plain flour | Enough to coat the sweetbreads
100g or so Panko breadcrumbs | Enough to coat the sweetbreads.
To taste Seasoning | Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Grapseed oil | Enough for frying – any high smoking point non-fragrant frying oil will do.
Preparing the sweetbreads: every sweetbread comes with it’s own natural packaging that needs to be removed . This can prove a little tricky but patience is rewarded.
Firstly, to remove any blood from the sweetbreads soak them in the 1% salt solution for an hour in the fridge.
Make the mayonnaise whilst you wait. To a miniature food processor add two tablespoons of mayonnaise, two chipotle chillies and two teaspoons of *adobo sauce. Blitz until smooth. Add the blended chillies to the rest of the mayonnaise and stir well. Now add half of the lime juice and a little seasoning, stir well and taste. Add more seasoning and lime juice if required. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika just before serving
Back to the sweetbreads: after an hour drain them and then leave to soak in unsalted cold water for 5 minutes. Now drain again and rinse them thoroughly.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the sweetbreads and poach for about 4-5 minutes – until they have only just firmed up. Carefully, with a slotted spoon, lift the sweetbreads out of the poaching water and put in to a large bowl of cold water in a sink. If the water temperature in the bowl rises too much run more cold water through until it is cool. Now the finicky bit. Carefully peel the membranes from each sweetbread – there’s no need to remove every single bit, but certainly remove as much as you can without damaging or breaking them. Let the sweetbreads dry out on your kitchen bench and discard all the removed membranes.
In a large frying pan heat an inch (2.5cm) of grapeseed oil to 170 deg C. (340 deg F.)**.
To a bowl add the plain flour, five-spice powder and some seasoning, and mix. To another bowl add the beaten egg. And finally to a third bowl add the panko breadcrumbs.
Now coat a sweetbread in the flour and shake to discard any excess. Dip it in the egg and let any excess drip off. Finally, coat with the panko breadcrumbs and put to one side. Repeat for all the sweetbreads.
Cook the sweetbreads in the hot oil in batches, adjusting the heat to maintain the 170 deg C. (340 deg F.) temperature. Cook for a couple of minutes and then turn over. When golden brown remove the sweetbreads, drain on kitchen towel and serve immediately with that devilish chipotle and lime mayonnaise and be prepared to be an offal convert – or enjoy your re-acquaintance.
* Depending on the availability of chipotle chillies and your ability to make a great adobo sauce I recommend buying tinned chipotles already in adobo sauce.
** Use a digital thermometer – it’s a great piece of kitchen equipment and can be picked up relatively cheaply.