After being featured in not one but two dishes on Top Chef last night, sweetbreads are piquing the curiosity of would-be gourmets throughout the reality TV viewing world. So, what exactly is a sweetbread? The answer is possibly less appetizing than you thought.
Most mammals, including humans and cows, have a thymus, a gland that helps produce immune cells, such as T cells. Cows have more than one thymus, in their neck and by their heart. They’re only prominent in young cows, thus they are frequently referred to as “veal sweetbreads.” If someone says “beef sweetbreads” to you then they are either stupid, or are they are Bobby Flay trying to trick you into looking stupid. In either case you should hit them with the nearest mallet.
Preparing sweetbreads involves removing the outer membrane by soaking them in salt water, usually overnight. They can then be poached, braised or straight-up deep fried. Like Lisa said on Top Chef last night, they’re kind of like a big beefy chicken nugget.
Sweetbreads information on the internet seems to vary. Some sites insist that the pancreas is also a sweetbread; others say it is only the thymus. Many sites talk about whether lamb or pork sweetbreads are worth eating – lamb seems to be generally accepted. Explore the interwebs for more info; meanwhile, here’s Stephanie from Top Chef’s veal sweetbreads recipe.