Sweetbreads, morels, oyster mushrooms, walnuts, dandelions

Sweetbread is the thymus, i.e. a lymphoid organ that is found only in young animals like calves and lambs. Unlike other organs such as liver or kidneys, which I love too, sweetbreads have a more subtle taste. Another offal with which it is often compared to is the brain. But as much as I love sweetbreads, I am not a great fan of brain (euphemism). Probably because of bad memories of my childhood school canteen (including finding raw brain pieces in my salad!!!), and also because brain is not really tasteful and its texture is a bit too "soft" for me. In fact, veal sweetbreads, which are the most common ones to be found, ares much more expensive than veal brains and are considered as a luxurious dish in France, like foie gras and other similar delicacies.

Sweetbreads pair very well with mushrooms, and "ris-de-veau et morilles à la crème" (sweetbreads, morels and crème fraîche) is a great staple of the French gastronomic universe, where the sweetbreads are cooked "meunière" (which means coated with flour, hence the term meunière, and gently fried in butter, under the butter smoking temperatue, aka "beurre noisette" or "hazelnut butter" in reference of the blond color taken by the butter) and served with a crème fraîche sauce. This might be considered now as a bit old fashioned currently. but it is so delicious and delicate.

As I had frozen sweetbreads from D'Artagnan and some dried morels (not fresh, alas!), I decided to associate those two in a more modern combination without crème fraîche and without "meunière". In fact, the specialty of a famous celebrity chef in France is to cook his sweetbreads on a bed of walnut shells. I didn't have walnut shells, but I had walnuts. Plus, it was so obvious for me that those two, the sweetbreads and the walnuts are made for being together: look at their shapes! Also, I didn't cook the sweetbreads meunière, but I seared them "as is" (no flour coating) in walnut oil at low temperature for around 40 minutes "à l'unilatérale", i.e. on one side only, so that this side formed a nice crispy crust while the whole sweetbreads is uniformly cooked and soft inside.

Before searing my sweetbreads, I had to prepare them and this is somehow the issue with this offal. It takes time and work. The preparation that should take place at least 12 hours in advance, and optimally 24 hours, consists in a series of steps (see below). But honestly, this “sweet” is worth the sweat…

Levels of difficulty
1 hour
>12 hours
1 hour

2 servings


§  2 lbs of non-prepared sweetbreads (a little bit less if prepared)
§  2 oz. of dried morels (or, better, the equivalent in fresh morels)
§  A handful of oyster mushrooms (or chanterelles, black trumpets, etc.)
§  A handful of walnuts
§  A handful of dendelion
§  Butter
§  1 tsp. of walnut oil
§  1 tbsp. of white vinegar
§  1 garlic clove
§  Bay leaves
§  Salt
§  Pepper or Espelette

1.     Preparation of the sweetbreads
§  soak the sweetbreads in iced water for a couple of hours, changing regularly the water and/or rinsing them consistently under a tiny (those SB are fragile) stream of cold water,
§  remove the fatty parts (generally on one side),  start pulling out the very thin skin wrapping the SB ( a bit like you would do with a monkfish filet) and trim them to give them a nice shape (keep the fat and trimmed parts),
§  put the SB in cold water with a tbsp. of white vinegar, salt, a garlic clove and a bay leaf, and put to boil for a couple of minutes, then plunge them in iced water to stop the cooking,
§  finish removing the skin
§  place the SB in the fridge, wrapped in cloth, and put, for instance, a heavy pot lid on top of them, the purpose being to press out the water out and to flatten them for a better grilling

2.     Cooking of the sweetbreads
§  Heat some butter in a cast iron pan, on medium-low (4 or 5)
§  When the butter is melted and start to sing without coloring, place the sweetbreads in the pan (here, I use a mold to give them a circular shape), and gently sear them on one side for around 5 minutes, till they form a crispy crust. You can help the process by pressing the sweetbreads with your hand or by placing a moderate on them so that they grill consistently
§  Then, put the burner at the minimum, or move the pan to tour steady temperature burner, and let the SB cook like that, gently, on the same side, for around 30 minutes, basting them regularly with the butter
§  Just before serving, put the burner back to medium/low for a few minutes to perfect the crispy side of the SW. Add also the morels that you will have started to cook meanwhile (see below)

3.     Preparation / Cooking of the morels
§  If you use dried morels (my case here), you need to soak them 1 hour in lukewarm water. The (only) advantage of dried morels, on top naturally of their all-season availability, is that you can use their soaking water as a broth for a sauce
§  When they the texture of fresh morels, remove them from their soaking water and strain them
§  Heat some butter in a cast iron pan, on medium-low (4 or 5)
§  When the butter is melted and start to sing without coloring (you already know this song!), place the morels and the other mushrooms in the pan and cook them in the “noisette” butter for 15 more minutes, adjusting the burner if need be
§  Add them to the SB at the end

4.     Preparation of the sauce and plating
§  In a 3rd pan (I know!), sauté the fat and trimmed parts of the SB with a tsp. of walnut oil
§  When they start to caramelize, deglaze with the white port and let it reduce by 50%
§  Add the morel soaking water and let reduce till getting a syrupy texture
§  Add this sauce in the pan that you used for cooking the SB and the morels (reserved aside) and stir up the whole to recuperate all the flavors
§   Rapidly coat and warm up the dandelions in the sauce
§  Toast the walnuts
§  Spred the dandelion around the plate
§  Place the circle shaped SB on the dandelions in the center of the plate, crispy side up, and place the morels, the other mushrooms the walnuts around with the sauce
§  A white Burgundy would be perfect to pair this dish



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