Update 28, Part 2: New Year's Goal: Become an "official" Gourmess by August 2010

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. --Julia Child

I finally made the Ris de Veau Braisés, Petits Pois Paysanne (Braised Sweetbreads with Country-Style Peas).

It took a bit of effort to find  them -- I asked for them at Whole Foods and was directed to the bakery (oops!) and even the ethnic grocery store that had beef heart, pigs feet, tripe and tongue didn't have them. I heard of another local butcher and on a whim stopped in and asked if they had any veal sweetbreads. The answer was no, but they'd be happy to get me some and it would only take a day or so.  Awesome!  So, a few days later, I went and picked up my 1.5 lbs of veal sweetbreads.

There are two different kinds of sweetbreads -- either the thymus or pancreas glands. The pancreas version is larger and more flavorful, and that's what was awaiting me in a nicely wrapped, butcher paper package.

Preparing sweetbreads is at least a 12-hour process. Upon receipt, you should soak in cold water for at least a few hours, preferably overnight, changing the water at least once. This makes sure you draw out any blood.  (I let mine soak overnight.)  Then, you drain them and put them into a pot of water that covers them completely, and then blanch in boiling water for 3-5 minutes.  After that, you drain them well, refresh them with cold water, pat dry, and then go about the painstaking process of removing any fatty parts and the thin membrane that covers them.  The recipe in the book wanted me to keep the piece whole because at the end, I would slice the sweetbreads  -- I've always had sweetbreads pan-fried, but not in slices -- they were more like small pebble-like sections, which is what you get when you remove the membrane too hastily, so I had to be very careful to keep all the pieces together, which took a while.

From there, I had to then put the sweetbreads between two kitchen towels and press with a weight (I used a cast-iron pan) and refrigerate like that for at least an hour, being careful not to crush the meat. This gets rid of any excess water and also makes the pieces uniform in thickness and shape-- I was too worried about crushing the meat, so I don't think mine were quite as flat as they could have been, but close enough.

It was 98 degrees outside, and about the same in the kitchen, but it needed to be done, so I poured myself a cold drink and got to work. After the pressing was done, I seared the sweetbreads (in the cleaned out pot that I blanched them in) with butter and a bit of vegetable oil until nicely browned. Then,  I removed them from the pan, got rid of the excess fat, and then added in a mirepoix of carrots and onions and cooked for a few minutes until they started to brown.  I added some white wine and scraped up the sucs with a wooden spoon. Once that reduced by half, I added some port wine and cooked until that had reduced by half.  The sweetbreads went back in the pan and I added in some veal demi-glace until the liquid came halfway up the sides of the sweetbreads.  I brought to a simmer and then put into a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes until cooked through.

The aroma in the house was wonderful -- and when I took the pan out of the oven and lifted off the lid, it smelled even richer, but let's face it, you could braise an old shoe with butter, wine and onions and carrots and it would smell great, too.  :) The sweetbreads were removed from the pot and tented with foil while I ran the sauce through my trusty chinois, discarded the mirepoix and then put the sauce on the stove to cook down for a few minutes until it thickened up a bit. I added salt and pepper and kept on the stove to warm while I finished the dish.

Earlier in the day, I had prepared the vegetable garnish, or the "Country-Style Peas." I cooked parsnips and carrots (tournered, of course) and pearl onions with a bit of butter and sugar until they were lightly caramelized (glacer à blancand I also prepared some English peas (fresh from my organic box delivery) à l'anglaise. When ready to serve, I mixed them together in small bowl, added a bit of Boston lettuce that I had cut chiffonade (thin ribbons) and blanched in hot water for a few seconds, some salt and pepper, and then arranged them all on the serving plate.  Then, I sliced up my sweetbreads and napped them with the sauce and placed briefly under the broiler to glaze a bit, and they went on the plate with the peas.  It was a very pretty dish, and the sweetbreads tasted nice with the sauce -- but I still prefer them pan-fried, so this wasn't a favorite dish.  Chris took a bite and declared them perfectly cooked, but then he took a long drink of water and left the room...

Anyway, that is the official end of Session 19: Organ Meats, and also the end of the "cooking" part of the book.  Starting with Session 20: Pastry Doughs (which I am halfway done with and will be posting soon), it's basically baking that's left.

Five sessions of it.

If you know me, you know that I am not a baker and have no interest in becoming one, so I am unofficially considering myself done with this course (and in record time!). But, since I still have several weeks until my birthday--and because I always finish what I start, I'm moving forward.  Just be warned, I have no patience for baking, so the Gourmess (and a grumpy one) will definitely be in the kitchen for the next few weeks, and it isn't going to be pretty (literally). But, it still might end up tasting okay. :)

Until next time...stay cool!

Sweetbreads on Foodista