Thursday, April 28, 2011

Crispy Sweetbreads with Parsnip Potato Puree, Braised Endives, and Port Sauce (Page 462)

RECIPE #1260

  • Date: Saturday, February 19, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Charles, Helen, Clara, Tim, and Mark
  • Recipe Rating: C


I remember one particular occasion as a kid when I was out for a fancy dinner with my parents. There was a whole menu full of words I didn't know and foods that didn't sound tasty to my young palate. One thing, however, did catch my eye: sweetbreads! I like breads. I like sweets. It sounded perfect! Luckily before I had a chance to order the sweetbreads my parents cautioned me against it. "It's not actually bread," they warned me. Indeed it is not. In the years immediately following that incident I remembered that sweetbreads were some sort of organ meat, but I didn't remember entirely accurately what they were. So for quite a while when I was a kid I thought sweetbreads were monkey brains. I was close... sort of. Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of calves. I still refer to them occasionally as brains. In fact I did so all throughout this dinner, mostly because it drove Mike crazy! He corrected me several times.

I put off making this dish for a long time because it sounded pretty disgusting. Mike requested a dinner with several disgusting dishes when he visited, though, so I figured it was time for the sweetbreads! This dish was labor-intensive. I soaked the sweetbreads in ice water for 8 hours. I then poached them very briefly. After they had been poached I cut away the membrane and connective tissue. This was not a glamorous job, or one that I would care to repeat. The sweetbreads would later look relatively appetizing, but they certainly did not at that stage. It's a shame I didn't take a picture. I weighted the sweetbreads and refrigerated them for another few hours. I then sliced the sweetbreads. While all that was going on, I made a puree of parsnips and potato using a potato ricer. I cooked endives in butter. When all the veggies were ready, I seasoned the sweetbreads and dredged them in flour. Mike and I fried them in clarified butter until they were golden. Mike then made a pan sauce with shallots, veal demi-glace, tawny port, and butter.

So how were the fried brains... err... thymus gland? Truth be told, in this three component dish, the sweetbreads were definitely the best part. They had a very mild flavor. If you take anything without an offensive flavor, bread it, and fry it in butter, it will taste pretty good. This was no exception. It was hard for me to shake the image of how gross the sweetbreads had looked earlier in their preparation, but the diners who had missed that stage found them to be not gross at all. The vegetables in this dish, however, were pretty disgusting. The Book said that the endives could be cooked up to a day ahead and reheated. I cooked mine just a bit ahead, but it was a bad idea. They took on a disturbing gray color, and were very wilty. Mike said they looked like something his cat threw up and it was hard to disagree with that. We all agreed that the dish would have been better without the endives at all. The parsnip puree was just OK. It tasted decent but the texture left something to be desired. I would have rather eaten my sweetbreads on a bed of tasty mashed potatoes. I certainly won't be making this dish again. That said, the preparation of the sweetbreads themselves was perfectly fine. It was the accompaniments that made this dish unappealing.

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This past Sunday was my 31st birthday. It was also Easter. And on Saturday night I was baptized at the Easter Vigil. To say that the weekend was memorable would be an enormous understatement. Emilee, Brian, and Sam flew all the way from California to be here for the festivities. Indeed, Em and Brian were my baptism sponsors. Poor Emilee flew in on a red eye, landing around 5am Saturday morning. She flew out on Sunday evening, just over 36 hours after arriving. I was honored that she made the trip despite her insane work schedule as a medical resident. I thought that Em, Brian, and Sam were going to be our only out-of-town visitors for the weekend, but my parents surprised me by flying in as well!

On Saturday we enjoyed a nice spring Michigan day. We took Sam to the children's garden and butterfly house on campus, and had some ice cream at the Dairy Store. Emilee and Brian had never been to Michigan before and I was so happy to have them here. We grilled brats on Saturday evening and made a big batch of mashed potatoes. It was perfect. The baptism was Saturday night. The Easter Vigil service was beautiful. Most of the service is in the dark, with everyone holding candles. In the Episcopal church there are four services a year when baptisms are done. Several people advised me that the Easter Vigil is the most magical, and I am indeed glad I waited for Easter to be baptized. It was very special.

On Sunday we celebrated Easter and my birthday by throwing a party! We had a brunch with 20 people at our house. It was fun, and festive, and a little bit chaotic. I loved it! We had two Easter egg hunts: one for the kids, and one for the adults. Here's a cute picture of Sam in our backyard, not seeing the two Easter eggs right behind him in the bush!

We had a ton of food, including a few new things from The Book (a foie gras terrine, blinis with three kinds of caviar, and a garlic rosemary jam). Most of the food was not from new recipes in The Book though: braised lamb shanks, cornmeal waffles, warm lentil salad, fruit salad, green salad, parmesan walnut salad in endive leaves, grilled asparagus, spicy potatoes and cauliflower (made by Helen!), baked leeks with cheese (also made by Helen!) and some gorgeous baguettes made by Bob. There may have been more... I can't remember! It was a big spread. We managed to set up a long table seating 20 in our living room (Well, 19 really. We didn't give baby Olly her own seat!). It was crowded in exactly the way I like. For dessert we had birthday cake (my favorite: red velvet with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream). When I was a kid every Easter I would make a cake in the shape of a bunny rabbit. I decided to make my childhood bunny cake this year for my birthday! I made the cake and Emilee gave the bunny a face using jelly beans and licorice rope. Isn't it cute?


Here I am with my special gentleman, Emilee, and Sam, right before I blew out my candles:


And a few moments later:


I had such a fun time celebrating both Easter and my birthday. It was really special having Em and Brian there, and my parents, and new friends I have made since we moved to East Lansing. I think it was my best birthday ever! Plus, as a birthday present to me my special gentleman did all the cleaning after the party. There were a considerable number of dishes generated by cooking and serving a big meal to 20 people, and he did them all! Late in the evening, after all our guests had left, my special gentleman and I ate some party leftovers and went for a nice walk on a beautiful spring day. It was a perfect birthday!

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