I was reminded this week of two favourite offal dishes from my childhood when a neighbour leant me a book called ‘Odd Bits – How to Cook the Rest of the Animal’. The first was my mum’s stuffed lambs hearts with mashed potato – so comforting – and the second was second was sizzling sweetbreads, cooked by one of the Turkish customers at my dad’s old butcher’s shop in north London.
Looking through the book’s recipes it made me wonder why we have become so squeamish about cooking the ‘odd bits’ of an animal, and it seems a shame. All right, the Crispy Lamb Testicles I could give a miss, but in the capable hands of author Jennifer McLagan even the tripe seemed inviting: blanched and then fried in strips with pea, pancetta, mint and leeks, it really looked delicious.
Of course at this time of year meat-eaters thoughts turn to the tender subtlety of a roast joint of ‘New Season’ lamb. And rightly so! But to stop at the leg or shoulder would be a pity: this is absolutely the right time to try odd bits - or offal - because, like the rest of the animal, it will be at its youthful best between now and mid-summer.
Sweetbreads are a particular gem: if you experiment with offal only once, let it be with sweetbreads and let it be in spring! Sliced, breaded and fried with garlic, they are morsels of rich wonder. Sweetbreads are the thymus glands (found at the back of the throat) of young animals, not the testicles as some say. You won’t want to cook them every day – the real thing can be quite expensive, and you need to soak them in a couple of changes of salted cold water for 4-6 hours before cooking. But as a tasty and unusual treat, they are a spring-time ritual worth getting in to.
Up to 170g per person is enough, as they’re rich.
Sweetbreads with Orange and Cumin – Serves 2
- 1 orange
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
- 2 tbsp flour
- 60g fresh bread crumbs
- 325g sweetbreads, soaked and skinned first
- 125ml clarified or melted butter
Preheat oven to 100ºC.
Finely grate zest from orange and squeeze juice. Whisk egg with orange zest, 1 tbsp of juice and the cumin, then pour into a shallow dish.
Cut sweetbreads into 1cm slices. Season then deep into flour, shaking off excess. Next, dip into the egg mixture, and then into the breadcrumbs.
Place butter in a large frying pan on medium heat. When hot, add sweetbreads in batches and fry until brown (approx 10 mins), turning once. Transfer to oven to keep warm.
Carefully pour remaining orange juice into pan and stir to de-glaze. Pour over cooked sweetbreads and serve with lettuce and pitta or a crusty white loaf.
Breaded sweetbreads with garlic butter – Serves 2
- 325g lambs sweetbreads, soaked and skinned (as above)
- White breadcrumbs (about half a loaf)
- 1 egg
- Olive oil
- A little flour
- For the garlic butter:
- 125g butter
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- 3 tbsp chopped flat-leaved parsley
- Dash pernod (optional)
To make the garlic butter, put the butter into a small pan until almost melted. Remove from heat. Crush the garlic and add, as well as the chopped parsley and pernod if using.
Break egg into a bowl and beat. Put breadcrumbs on a plate, and flour on a plate. Slice prepared sweetbreads into inch pieces. Dip in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.
Melt some butter and olive oil in a frying pan, and when hot, add the crumbed sweetbreads. Cook on each side for 3 mins, or until breadcrumbs are nicely tanned. Drain on kitchen roll, then plate up and pour over garlic butter.
Good with bread and salad.