Thursday, July 26, 2012
Well, doesn't that look attractive.
No, no, that's not brains, though it sort of looks like it might be, right? It is veal sweetbreads, which, as the punch line goes, is neither sweet nor bread.
(And there are still brains left to be cooked. We'll get there.)
This was an opportunity buy. I was at Wagshal's Market because I heard it was a cool meat shop, and I wanted to see if they had anything that was on my hard-to-find list. They had rattlesnake, but that isn't in the book. All of the traditional meats behind the counter looked good, but all i really wanted was to get something -- anything -- that got me a little out of my comfort zone.
The directions for the sweetbreads include blanching them for 10 minutes, then peeling off its membrane. Mmmm. Membrane. That's outside the comfort zone.
On the door of the freezer case at Wagshal's, it listed some of the items inside. Other than the rattlesnake, the only thing that jumped out at me was the sweetbreads. I thought it was possible that I could get sweetbreads from a meat vendor at a farmers market, but I was willing to consider buying it here if they were local. So I asked where the sweetbreads came from.
"I'm not totally sure," he told me, "but I think from right around here." He was gesturing toward the side of his neck.
In a completely literal sense, he was right. Sweetbreads are a gland in the neck of a cow. I was glad he knew that, but it wasn't what I meant.
"I meant, where was the cow from?"
"Oh. They come from a farm between here and Baltimore."
So I blanched them. And I peeled the membrane. And I learned that blanched sweetbreads smell like farts. Yes, it was definitely the sweetbreads. The next step was to soak them in cold water until ready to cook, and that seemed like an excellent idea at that point.
The rest of the dish goes together fast. There is bacon. There is a dressing made of quince paste. There are vinegar-y onions. There are fennel fronds.
The sweetbreads are then broken up into lobes -- mmmmmm, lobes -- and dredged in flour that's spiked with ground fennel seed. I actually didn't have any fennel seeds, but rather than run over to the supermarket, I grabbed what I did have, which was fennel pollen. For those not familiar with fennel hierarchy, that's what they call "an upgrade."
The dusted sweetbreads get a quick sauté and stacked with all the other stuff mentioned earlier.
Suddenly, it looks way better, right?
It's an organ meat, so it has that organ-meat texture. But it's also basically fried. So it also has that texture. And it has bacon. And the quince vinaigrette. Where we're going is, even for someone generally not crazy about the texture of organ meat, there is so much good going on here, that it's a really good dish.
I've had sweetbreads a few times, and the first several times I kind of had to turn my brain off to what it was before I could eat it, but I've always thought they were good. I did that again with this dish, multiplied by the fact that I was handling them raw for the first time, but I would totally make this again.
And it turns out, sweetbreads are everywhere here. After I made this dish, I saw them at Whole Foods. Who knew?
Up next: catching up/quick hits