The sweetbreads I’m discussing and cooking with today are considered offal. To look at sweetbreads, one would make the common mistake of thinking they are brains (in fact they are not).
Sweetbreads come from the thymus glands, located at the chest entry, just before the trachea. They are only found in young animals as they atrophy with age.
Sweetbreads can come from pig, cow or sheep but the most valued and delicious ones are the veal sweetbreads.
It is thought that the name Sweetbreads came from Old English: Sweet describe the sweeter, delicate taste of this meat (sweeter than other meats) and bread, deriving from the Old English word “braed”, meaning flesh.
Many of you may be like me and you don’t eat liver…sort of. To this day, I cannot down a bite of liver, bacon-wrapped chicken livers get stuck in my mouth yet I can eat foie gras, Kokoretsi, Magheritsa, pates and in this instance…sweetbreads.
Let me make this clear – despite sweetbreads falling into the offal category, they taste nothing like them. Sweetbreads are no doubt responsible for my being able to enjoy some foods with offal.
My very taste of sweetbreads was in the early 90’s when our family was invited by the Demopoulos family to be treated to a day of mezedes (appetizers), a whole lamb on the spit, drinks, dancing and much laughter.
Sweetbreads were part of the array of mezedes and I’ve had them enjoyed them ever since. So, if you’re type that was like me, wouldn’t touch anything remotely near liver, organ meat or offal, I invite you to try sweetbreads. You better butchers will carry them and ask only for the veal sweetbreads.
They can be poached, braised, fried, roasted or in this case – grilled. Whichever method you choose to cook them is up to your mood and what your fancy that day. Just remember that a quick step of blanching them should be followed-through each and every time. Blanching will tenderize the sweetbreads, speed up your cooking time, allow you to easily remove any veins and the thin membrane that covers them.
I’ll be adding more sweetbreads recipes to the site. There just aren’t enough sweetbreads recipes around and I love them. These grilled sweetbreads are a standard for my family’s Greek Easter. You may choose to skewer them or not. I chose to for easier handling on a busy grill.
Here, after I’ve blanched the sweetbreads, I tossed them in some olive oil, sea salt and black pepper and placed them on the grill (medium-high heat) and finished them off with a sage ladolemono (oil/lemon sauce).
1 to 1 1/2 lbs of veal sweetbreads
2 tsp. of salt
1 Tbsp. of wine vinegar
ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
2-3 sage leaves, finely chopped
lemon wedges for garnish
- Place the sweetbreads in a pot of cold water and allow them to soak for at least an hour. Drain and refill the pot with another water to cover the sweetbreads. Add the salt and vinegar and and slowly bring up to a boil over medium heat.
- Immediately drain and cover them again with cold water. Allow them to cool to room temperature. Remove the membranes and any visible veins and reserve.
- Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill. Drizzle some vegetable oil over your sweetbreads and toss to coat. Pass skewers (if using wooden skewers, soak over night) through your sweetbreads and then season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Prepare your ladolemono by adding oil, lemon juice and finely chopped sage in a jar and shake well to emulsify. Reserve.
- Over a medium-high grill, cook your sweetbreads for about 5-6 minutes a side or until golden brown and still slightly soft to the touch.
- Brush your sweetbreads with the sage ladolemono and sprinkle some coarse sea salt. Serve with some good crusty bread, a wedge of lemon and open a bottle of Kir-Yanni Akakies Rose.
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