Sweetbreads Normande

Veal sweetbreads are the thymus glands of a veal calf. They’re marvelously tender, with the flavor of veal plus a marked richness. That owes to a rather high level of cholesterol, which makes me think of sweetbreads more as an appetizer than as the entree it classically was. This dish gets added richness from the cream sauce.

The most time-consuming part of this dish is getting the sweetbreads ready for the sauté pan. The fresh product seems almost liquid, but firms up when you poach it.

Veal sweetbreads with capers from Arnaud’s. (My recipe here is different but looks much the same.)

  • 2 lbs. sweetbreads
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • 5 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 cup Calvados
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 3 cups sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitakes or chanterelles
  • 12 oz. whipping cream
  • 8 oz. orzo pasta, cooled al dente

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the sweetbreads for about five minutes. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Peel the membrane from the outside of the sweetbreads. It might be necessary to pull apart the lobes to get the little shreds of membrane out, but don’t break the sweetbreads up too much. Drain the excess water.

2. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Dust the sweetbreads with the mixture.

3. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat until it bubbles. Sauté the sweetbreads until browned lightly on all sides. Don’t be concerned that they might not be cooked throughout; there’s yet another stage of cooking coming. Keep the sweetbreads warm.

4. Pour off the excess butter, but don’t wipe the pan. Lower the heat to medium-low, and add the Calvados. Bring to a boil, whisking the bottom of the pan to dissolve the juices and butter. Be careful; Calvados is highly alcoholic, and the fumes may flame. (That’s okay, but be ready to deal with it.)

5. When the Calvados is almost all gone, add the apple juice, mustard, and mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms until soft. Add the cream and bring to a boil, stirring the pan to blend the ingredients. Be careful not to let the cream foam over.

6. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Return the sweetbreads to the pan and cook until heated through. Serve with orzo pasta.

Serves four.

3 Readers Commented

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  1. John Parr on February 7, 2014

    Where is best restaurant to purchase this dish

    • Tom Fitzmorris on February 7, 2014

      Not many restaurants serve sweetbreads these days. Bayona, Clancy’s, and Chateau du Lac are among the few. For this particular preparation–which is pretty standard–I’d call ahead to ask if they’d do it. Any French chef could do this without cracking a book.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  2. RICK GEYER on February 7, 2014

    I believe the first Ris de Veau dish I had was at ANTOINE’S. I generally find it an uncommon menu item. I have had them often at GAUTREAU’S when Anne Russell owned it and Armand Jonte` was the Chef, and CLANCY’S has consistently featured Sweetbreads on the Menu. I believe it was in 2004 that the French had a mad cow scare and only Ris de Agneau was available. Quite good. Richard Collins Underground Gourmet had an often used recipe for the dish with Demi-glace and orange zest that was quite a standby recipe.I miss New Orleans, your column brings back so many memories. Regards, Rick Geyer