Tuesday 28 July
We love eating sweetbreads in restaurants; in fact, it's about the only organ meat (a thymus gland, in fact) that we do love. A pound of beef sweetbreads was only $3.19 at Jungle Jim's, and Barbara dragged them back to our lair as an experiment.
Mario Batali's Babbo had what sounded like a good recipe, though as complicated as only a restaurant kitchen can make it, using duck bacon, quince vinegar, and onions four ways.
We consulted with other websites, Joy of Cooking, and the contents of our larder, and did the following.
Soaked the sweetbreads in water all day in the fridge, just to dissipate any blood.
When we were ready to cook, brought 6 quarts of water to a boil and added 1/4 cup white vinegar.
In the meantime, got the accompaniments ready. Batali made two separate confits of red and white onions, but we already had a half jar of red onion confit in the fridge, so all we needed to do was heat it up.
We peeled and halved three shallots, tossed them with a little oil and salt in a baking pan, and roasted in the combi oven at 400º until soft, ca. 20-30 mins.
In the same oven, put a little skillet of 1/4 cup fennel seeds to roast for only 4 minutes, then ground them up fine in a spice grinder.
Also cut a quarter pound of bacon into lardons, and fried it up in a wide skillet. Scooped out the bacon and set it on a paper towel, but left the grease.
Once the water boiled (remember the water?), blanched a couple of scallions until they were limp, snagged them out, shocked them in cold water, and set them aside to drain. Then blanched the sweetbreads in the same pot for 10 minutes, carefully scooped them out, and shocked them too.
When they were cool enough to handle, peeled off the membrane, and set aside.
In the pan of bacon grease, added a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and raised the flame to high.
While it was heating, prepared a bagful of 1/2 cup flour (Batali uses Wondra for extra crispiness), the ground fennel seeds, kosher salt, and pepper.
Cut the sweetbreads into two-bite-sized nuggets, dredged them in the flour mix, and fried them in the pan in batches, so as not to overcrowd them. They cooked about 5 minutes per side, until the juices ran clear and they were golden brown.
Now, the presentation. Ran the scallion in a circle in the center of each plate, with the roasted shallot halves radiating from it, and the hot onion confit in the middle. Scattered the bacon lardons over it all, arranged the sweetbreads on top, drizzled with our best balsamic vinegar, and topped with some fennel fronds from the garden.
We were nervous about this first-time preparation, but it all worked out. Beef sweetbreads are a little chewier than veal, but still delicious, and it was great to have a dinner-size portion rather than the measly two or three nubbins you get in restaurants.