Dish of the Week: Sweetbread Microgreen Salad
No one really knows why they are called Sweetbreads, though a good guess might be that “pass the thymus gland” is not the sexiest come on in culinary history. Then again, when food is in short supply you probably don't care what an affordable ingredient is called. Intrepid and talented chefs have always found a way to cook the less salubrious parts of the animals we eat ~ brain, heart, intestine, feet, tails... glands. Our greatest techniques (and from them, our classic dishes) have not sprung from boredom, so much as necessity. Still, to paraphrase the bard, a thymus gland by any other name… is bound to sound more appealing.
The thymus gland has two parts, one in the throat and a larger lobe near the heart which is considered more desirable because of its size (though in truth they basically taste the same). Pastured veal is the animal of choice for most chefs. The traditional method to prepare them for cooking is to soak them in milk for 24 hours to soften, then blanch, shock in cold water, press, drain, and chill. At this stage you can easily peel the outer membrane and portion before cooking. Ryan braises his sweetbreads first, slowly heating them through, after which he dredges them in flour and secret spices (secret to me, at any rate) before a quick sauté in foamy butter and fresh thyme. This results in sweetbreads which have a beautiful crunch, yet are still bursting with meat juice.
As it turns out, when properly prepared, they actually are kind of sweet. It’s not a sugary sweet to be sure, but a soft, mild, loamy sweet, enhanced by the consistency of custard crossed with tofu. Serving them with a bright salad of microgreens, cress, shaved carrot, pickled onion, and mache makes for an inspired pairing, not least because it brings forward the mellow nuance of the sweetbreads, taking the dish in an unexpectedly light direction.
Talking to Daniel about our new microgreen program ~ which both he and Mix Garden supply ~ I’ve learned a lot about these funny little guys. They have a range of flavors ~ alliumous, herbaceous, floral, spicy ~ that is quite remarkable. The biggest surprise was to find that microgreens are not really true leaves at all, but something called cotyledons. Formed in the seed, if left to grow after breaching the soil they would swiftly fall off the plant and die. The word cotyledon comes from the Greek word for 'seed leaf'.
The microgreens Chef used for this dish were cotyledons from seedlings which, planted with the proper spacing would eventually have grown into Russian Kale, Early Wonder Beets, Dwarf Grey Sugar Peas and Large Leaf Mustard Greens.
I love this dish. It’s another delicious reason I’m thankful we live in an age when the ethical sense of eating every part of an animal we take such great care to raise has placed cuts like sweetbreads front and center. Happily, on thoughtful menus, in hands like Ryan’s, they produce the most revelatory share of wows every night.
They are going fast! Don't miss out on a chance to spend a great 'guilt free' afternoon of drinking, eating, and talking clothes as Studio Barndiva joins forces with the talented folks at Brush Salon to support the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure. Joining us with a wonderful runway fashion show will be four of Healdsburg's finest clothing shops ~ Susan Graf Limited, M Clothing, Outlander Men's Gear and Clutch. Barndiva will be doing the cocktails and food, Vin Couture will be pouring the wine.
The evening also includes an exciting live auction with auctioneer Lucy Lewand, KZST's Debbie Abrams as MC and DJ Fabian.
Come out and have some spring fashion fun while we raise money to help find a cure for diabetes.