Our continuing quest to try all 100 foods a DC Omnivore must experience checks out sweetbreads.
There are a few items on the Omnivore 100 list that will elicit a very strong reaction. Sweetbreads certainly has to be one of them. I think there’s no middle ground here, as with, say, sea urchin, you either love it or you hate it.
To the uninitiated, sweetbreads are classified as offal, and are the thymus gland of veal, beef, lamb, or pork. Most of the sweetbreads I’ve been served are veal or lamb, and indeed according to the venerable Fannie Farmer, only veal sweetbreads should rightly be considered (and in the 1918 edition, actually recommended for the “convalescent,” so as I’m sitting here wasting away from flu, a plate of sweetbreads is sounding pretty delicious…).
It’s hard to adequately describe the taste, but I’ll give it a whirl – properly prepared, veal sweetbreads are slightly firm giving way to a creamy, almost gelatinous succulence. Velvety also comes to mind. I’ve found veal has a more delicate flavor than lamb.
My very first experience with sweetbreads was about two years ago at PS7…
Sadly, the dish I tried is not currently on the menu (PS7 rotates seasonally), but it was truly heavenly – a duo of veal breast and veal sweetbreads. The sweetbreads were breaded and fried, which is probably the perfect introduction if you aren’t quite certain of your squeamishness reaction. I’m sure it will be back on the menu sometime.
Luckily, there are plenty of places to try sweetbreads and other types of offal like brains or tongue in DC. The old standbys would be most of the traditional French places in town – La Chaumiere, Bistrot Lepic, Bistro d’Oc – or one of the more adventurous restaurants like Commonwealth, Proof, or Restaurant Eve. You can go crazy and sample them in a Parilla Criolla, an Argentinian meat platter, at Los Rumberos.
Thanks to shows like No Reservations and Top Chef, the interest in offal is rising, so browse the gourmand forums for more suggestions. The resurgence in using offal and elevating it to luxury status is also not surprising given our lean economical times. So get over your squeamishness and give sweetbreads a try.