I think Nigel Slater is something of a food genius. I love to listen to him talk about food and recipes as much as I like the recipes themselves. Thanks for this Nigel, I pass it on and recommend it to my readers without hesitation.
Pale and fragile, sweetbreads are not for the squeamish, but cooked properly they make a memorable feast
Of all the odds and ends on the butcher’s counter, the bits that think, beat or hear, filter, trot or swish away the flies, those I like best are the sweetbreads. Pale, fragile and frankly a bit on the spooky side to look at, they have a delicate flavour and texture you could almost call creamy.
They are not, as I was led to believe when I was a kid, an animal’s balls. Sweet as in delicacy, bread as in broed, meaning flesh, the sweetbreads are the thymus glands. One of those glands whose exact use gets me in a knot, but as with most offal, it is probably for the best not to know too much. According to Jennifer McLagan’s offal bible Odd Bits (Jacqui Small, £20) there are two types, ‘the rounder, smoother heart sweetbread and the longer throat sweetbread’. Whatever, they cook sweetly, as you might guess, and have texture that is somewhere between a chicken liver and, when cooked properly, a quenelle. By properly I mean briefly or for a long time, but never in between. A sweetbread is the squid of the butchers counter.
Sweetbreads are all too rarely readily available. Very smart food halls will have them, but it’s probably best to order them from your local butcher. He or she will need a bit of notice. They toughen with age and are at their best in spring and early summer. And lamb’s and calf’s are the only ones we eat. If your butcher hasn’t prepared them, quietly curse and then soak them for four hours in salted water, changing it often, and pull away the thin membrane of skin that holds them together.
The best presentation of them ever was when some posh restaurant (I can’t honestly remember which one) put them in a little tart of puff pastry with cream sauce flecked with tarragon. Now that was good. But I am not in a pastry mood at the moment. Some sort of crisp crust appeals, though. A light coating of breadcrumbs, made interesting with chopped young thyme leaves, worked a treat at dinner last night.
With delicate flavours on my mind I put together a gentle starter of smoked salmon and cucumber – essential summer flavours that are more readily acceptable than even the most popular piece of offal – bound with homemade mayonnaise and flavoured with dill. We ate our coarse pâté with curls of rye crispbread pockmarked with poppy seeds. To avoid the cucumber bringing in too much moisture, as is its habit, the grated flesh sat in a colander for half an hour with salt and then had a good squeeze. The cucumber flavour intensifies, the wetness disappears, and everyone is happy.
This is food for the shade. The calm and gentle flavours for eating in the dappled light of early summer rather than loud flavours for screeching sunshine. There is plenty of time for that.
Crumbed sweetbreads with peppers and mushrooms
lamb’s sweetbreads 500g
thyme 2 tsp
groundnut oil 1 tbsp, for frying
For the peppers:
red pimento 2 x 400g cans
balsamic vinegar 1 tbsp
crushed dried chillies 1 tsp
golden caster sugar 1 tbsp
For the mushrooms:
mushrooms such as chestnut, 250g
butter a little, for cooking
olive oil a little, for cooking
garlic 2 cloves, finely chopped
Roughly chop the red peppers and put them in a pan over a moderate heat. As they warm, pour in the vinegar, and add the chillies and sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, set aside.
Cut the mushrooms in half. Warm a little butter in a shallow pan, add the garlic, then, as it starts to colour, add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or so, until tender. Set aside.
Check the sweetbreads, cutting away any sinew and peeling off any skin. Break the egg in a shallow dish, season and beat it gently. Put the crumbs on to a second shallow dish or plate, then mix in the thyme.
Dip each of the sweetbreads first into the egg then the breadcrumbs, rolling them over and patting the crumbs on to them, then place on a plate.
Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the sweetbreads for a couple of minutes, flipping gently, till the crumbs are golden. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Serve with the peppers, mushrooms and a wedge of lemon.
Salmon and cucumber mayonnaise
For the mayonnaise:
egg yolks 2
groundnut oil 150ml
olive oil 100ml
lemon juice a squeeze
For the filling:
mayonnaise 3 heaped tbsp
smoked salmon pieces 100g
dill 3 or 4 sprigs, chopped
smoked salmon 200g
Lightly peel the cucumber, halve it lengthways, then scrape out the seeds. Grate into a large sieve, salt lightly then place it over a bowl. Let it drain for about 20 minutes, then squeeze out the excess liquid with your hands.
To make the mayonnaise put the egg yolks in a bowl, add the mustard then the oils, drop by drop at first, whisking all the time, then quicken to a trickle. Once it has thickened, season with a little salt and lemon juice, then refrigerate.
To make the filling, put the cucumber into a bowl and add 3 generous tbsp of the mayonnaise. Cut the salmon into thin strips no wider than your little finger and add them to the cucumber with the dill. Fold gently together and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Divide the salmon between four plates, then add spoonfuls of the mayonnaise
(Via NIgel Slater Recipes.)