Imagine if you will, that you are a foodie with macabre tendencies. You collect odd cookbooks from strange authors and chefs. One day, as you aimlessly peruse the used books at the local thrift shop, you spy the spine of a book that catches your eye. Did that one say Vincent Price
?You go back, and propped up between completely unrelated and unremarkable books is a cookbook. A fine vintage cookbook written by Mary and Vincent Price. Yes, THAT Vincent Price! What would you do?
I’ll tell you what I did. I grabbed it up, without looking at the price (it was extremely affordable), without looking at the recipes (who cares, it was by Vincent Bloody Price!) and bolted to the register, cash in hand.
Take. My. Money!
That was how this gorgeous cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price (1978 Printing), came into my possession.
So, what exactly is in this cookbook? Probably not what you might expect, especially if you think it would have a bunch of campy, horror b-movie inspired recipes.
Rather, it has exactly what the title suggests: great gourmet recipes. In this case, from great restaurants from around the world. You see, Mary and Vincent were foodies themselves and thanks to his fame and fortune, they traveled a lot and enjoyed many world-class gourmet restaurants. They befriended many of the owners and chefs and collected recipes from those restaurants. They tried many of the recipes themselves, and their favorites are published in this aptly named Treasury. So not only is this a fine collection of vintage haute cuisine from the best and most famous restaurants around the world — but you also get quaint anecdotes and cooking advice from — yes, yes — Vincent Freaking Price!
Even still, it’s not like I’m going to pick just any recipe from this cookbook. I mean, I could go the campy route and share their favorite Bloody Mary recipe (p. 416). No, instead, I decided now was the perfect opportunity to explore a gourmet “quinto quarto” meal. It was not hard to find one, either.
I chose a French recipe called “Ris de veau à la crème”, which means “veal sweetbreads in cream”. This classic gourmet French recipe came from The Red Carpet restaurant in Chicago.
For those unfamiliar with the term, sweetbreads are definitely not bread nor are they very sweet. Sweetbreads are an organ meat, specifically the thymus and pancreas glands of an animal. The rounder pancreas gland, or “noix” in French cuisine, near the heart or stomach has a more delicate flavor and smoother texture than the tubular thymus throat gland, called the “gorge“. Other forms of offal, like the tongue, sometimes also get lumped in as sweetbreads, but they aren’t the same.
As the recipe calls for veal sweetbreads, this right off the bat requires a gourmet butcher. Some stores might carry lamb (ris d’agneau) instead. You might find pork or beef, but unlike kidneys, if you are going to eat glands, why not go for the best? If you can find them.
Preparation time: about 8 hours to overnight
Cooking time: 25 minutes
3 pairs fresh sweetbreads (about 3 pounds)
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
flour to dredge (about 1 cup)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper, fresh ground
1/4 lb bacon (4 oz), chopped
2 Tbsp chopped onion
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups cream
1 Tbsp minced parsley
Two baking sheets or casserole pans
Saute pan or skillet
Optional – plastic wrap and paper towels
Prepare the Sweetbreads
- Wash your sweetbreads in cold water and place into a large bowl. To the bowl, add ice and water. This is to leach out any excess blood in the sweetbreads. You’ll need to keep them in clean ice water for about 2-3 hours, changing the water several times.
- Into a saucepan, pour the 4 cups of water, lemon juice, and salt. Add the chilled sweetbreads and simmer for 5 minutes to blanch them. While this simmers, prepare another bowl of ice water. (You can of course use the same bowl from before, but wash it well and add fresh ice water.)
- After the five minutes, move the sweetbreads straight into the ice bath. This stops the cooking process immediately. They don’t need more than a minute to shock them. Transfer them all to a clean cutting surface.
- After the blanch and shock, the membrane around the sweetbreads becomes easier to remove. Using a very sharp knife, take the thicker parts off. You will want the nodules underneath to stay together as well as possible.
- On a chilled baking sheet lay down a sheet of plastic wrap and a paper towel on top of that. Lay out the sweetbreads. Cover these with another paper towel and plastic wrap.
- On top of this, place a casserole pan full of more ice water. (More ice than water this time.) This provides a weight to flatten out sweetbreads, squeezing out most of the remaining water and firming them up. If you don’t have a casserole pan, you can place another baking sheet on top and add some weights. If you have a bag of ice to lay on top, that could work.
- Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. As long as these stay cold, you could let these press overnight.
Cook the Sweetbreads
- Dredge the sweetbreads in flour with salt, and pepper. If you use a closable container or a bag and shake them, you’ll get a nice light dusting and you won’t have messy hands.
- In a sauté pan or large skillet add the chopped bacon. Over low heat, cook the bacon, rendering the fat without cooking the bacon too much.
- Add the onions and mushrooms and sauté until they are soft.
- Add the sweetbreads and sauté for 2 minutes on each side, until browned.
- Remove everything to a plate and set aside.
Make the Sauce
- Deglaze the saute pan with the white wine, then add the cream and stir to combine.
- Return the sweetbreads and mixture to the pan and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve on a platter, pouring the extra sauce on top of the sweetbreads. Garnish with the parsley.
I had to buy beef (not veal) sweetbreads, and they were $3.19/lb at my local gourmet grocery store. Other stores I frequent told me that they just don’t bother with them.
The rounder pancreas gland, or “noix” in French cuisine, near the heart or stomach has a more delicate flavor and smoother texture than the tubular thymus throat gland, called the “gorge“. The one-pound packages of sweetbreads I bought came with two noix and no gorge. This saved me the trouble of cutting through even more membrane to separate them.Do make sure when you buy them that they’re still pale-to-white, fleshy and firm. Cook them within 24 hours — do not freeze them. I learned this lesson the hard, chewy way.
This procedure uses a LOT of ice water, so make sure you have plenty of ice on hand. Also, chopping raw bacon is hard, or rather I should say, greasy and thick. I had to use my wife’s super-sharp knives from her culinary school to even give it a go. So, I’d recommend freezing the bacon first. Or, if you give up, cook the bacon and then crumble it afterward. I won’t tell anybody. Also, FYI, chopped raw bacon actually looks worse than the sweetbreads. Seriously.I used an inexpensive bottle of California Sauvignon Blanc for this. I’m not Julia Child, you know. I do enjoy “a liitle wine for the sauce, a little wine for the chef.” You didn’t think I was going to cook this sober, did you?
Here’s a tip that you can use no matter what you dredge for a breading: use a closeable container or a bag. Even with a wet dredge. Your hands will thank you.
This was my first time cooking sweetbreads. I thought they tasted like a mild beef, however, the meat was not very tender. The dish was very much like eating a chewy, lightly-breaded country-fried steak in gravy.
I think erred on the long side of blanching, pressing, and cooking. I have updated the recipe above accordingly and I think this works better. I also made the mistake of freezing my sweetbreads as I know they are very perishable and I did not have a chance to cook them right away. Some research has confirmed this is a very bad thing. Buy, prepare, and cook within 24 hours seems to be the consensus.
Truth be told, the bacon and mushrooms were key to this dish. The bacon added a friendly, familiar flavor (but did not overpower it) and the mushrooms provided texture that complimented the sweetbreads nicely.
The good news is that I enjoyed the dish, and even my 20-something stepson liked it (though he added a lot of hot sauce as he is want to do for just about everything.) I would definitely cook this again, or try another simpler sweetbreads dish. (I have another sweetbreads recipe slated for episode #106!) This one was very labor and patience intensive.