If you like fried oysters than you will like fried sweetbreads. I guarantee it. They are similar in their size and texture — that ridiculously delicious marriage of crunchy fried floury shell and buttery soft insides. Their flavor is rich, their texture velvet, and they pair oh so well with big fun flavors like this sticky and sweet pomegranate sauce that is like a mega-tangy non-ketchupy version of general tsao’s.
What are sweetbreads? They’re the thymus gland of a calf (or lamb), weigh about one pound a piece and consist of multiple little round nubs connected by a fatty membrane.
Is this a project? Yes. Is it a hard project? Not particularly. Is this for the fainthearted? No. Do they look a little like alien brains? Maybe. Are they delicious and cool and totally worth the effort? Absolutely.
I would call this a project only because of the time investment, the steps themselves are very simple. Think of it as new and snazzy chicken nuggets.
Give sweetbreads a try and you will be doing so many good things(!!) — expanding your culinary skills, using and appreciating the whole animal, supporting local butchers and farms. There is so much waste in this world, but we can take control and responsibility for what we bring into — or leave out of — our kitchens.
Easy Fried Sweetbreads with Sticky Pomegranate Molasses
Poaching/Prepping the Sweetbreads:
- 1 LB calves sweetbreads
- 2 cups stock
- 2 cups whole milk
Frying the Sweetbreads:
- prepared sweetbreads
- 2 cups flour more as needed
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- high-smoke oil for shallow pan frying
For Sticky Pomegranate Sauce:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 TB pomegranate molasses
- 2 TB rice vinegar
- 1 TB apple cider vinegar
- 1 TB sesame oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1.5 tsp fish sauce
- 1/2-1 tsp red pepper chile flakes optional
- pile of white rice
- 5-6 scallions finely chopped
- large handful cilantro finely chopped
- sesame seeds or crushed peanuts for topping
- lime wedges for squeezing
The Day You Get Your Sweetbreads:
Place them in a large bowl or cold salted water and refrigerate overnight, changing out water once or twice. This helps to flavor them, firm 'em up a bit and drain out any icky bits.
Poaching the Sweetbreads:
(This can be done a few hours ahead or the day before)
Take sweetbreads out to room temp while you're getting stuff ready.
Pour milk and stock into a medium saucepan (big enough to fit the sweetbreads comfortably) and bring to a steady simmer but not quite boiling. Add water if your pot is on the bigger side and the liquid is looking shallow.
Get an ice water bath ready while the poaching liquid is heating up.
Poach sweetbreads for about 5-8 minutes. They're ready when they're firm to the touch but still bouncy. You only want them partially cooked, still creamy and soft in the centers.
Gently remove sweetbreads from the pot and plunge into the icy water to stop the cooking.
Drain and pat dry.
Remove any gristly bits and peel off the outer membrane.
Don't go too crazy with peeling or the whole thing will start to fall apart. Use your good judgement.
Now place them in a pie plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap and weigh it down with a can or two or second plate (see photos). This helps the sweetbreads to firm up and release any liquid.
Refrigerate, weighted, for 3-5 hours. (If you're poaching the day before remove the weight after the allotted time so it doesn't get squished to death.)
Some pink liquid will seep out and that's totally normal and good. Toss it.
For the Actual Dinner!:
Huzzah great job you're almost there.
For the sauce: Combine all the ingredients for the sticky pomegranate sauce in a small saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Let it bubble away for about five minutes or until you have a thick drizzly sauce. Taste and adjust as needed, set aside.
Get your 'mise' ready, prep your toppings, get your rice going, etc.
Set up a dredging station of two shallow bowls: one with the eggs (stirred up well with a fork), the other with the flour and salt.
Separate or slice the sweetbreads into even sized pieces about the size of a small chicken nugget.
Double-dredge each piece (so that's flour-->egg-->flour) and lay on a clean plate when they're done.
When you're getting to the end, get a large skillet going over medium-high heat with enough oil to shallow fry.
When the oil is hot and shimmering, fry the coated sweetbreads in batches (don't crowd the pan). You want a deep golden brown, about 4 minutes per side for larger pieces and 3 for small.
Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and sprinkle with some flaky salt.
Check the sticky sauce, if it has cooled too much it might be too thick -- rewarm 'til stir-able.
Toss the sweetbreads in the sauce to coat.
Serve hot with rice, topped with a shower of herbs and peanuts/sesame seeds.
- Source your sweetbreads from a good butcher, they should be moist and soft with a shiny membrane.
- Sweetbreads freeze well.
- This can also be made and prepared the same way with Lamb Sweetbreads.
- Serve alongside a crunchy slaw, cucumber salad, or pickles for a delicious and very complete meal.
This recipe is part of an on-going immersive series called “The Uglies.” It’s about taking the odd, the offal, and giving them some sunshine. #usethewholeanimal