Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook and I’m inviting you to tag along. Today, we’re discovering the offal truth about sweetbreads and testing a recipe from a WAMPAS Baby Star.
You can read all my past taste tests here.
Claire Windsor was an elegant star who often played posh ladies but her most famous role for modern viewers is likely her part in Lois Weber’s The Blot. Like many of Weber’s films, it had a social message, this time about underpaying academics. Windsor does excellent work as the daughter of a professor who is romanced by a rich kid.
A major plot point of the film centers around a chicken but Windsor opted for something more exotic with her recipe. Here it is:
First thing’s first. Sweetbreads are guts, offal, the insides. Specifically, they are the thymus or pancreas. They’re harder than Dickens to get hold of in my neck of the woods and I had to special order them from the butcher.
Here they are in all their glory:
The minute I opened the package, I knew that I was going to like sweetbreads. The aroma is mild and sweet, similar to crab or shrimp, and lacks the pee-yeeeew factor of, say, kidneys. The recipe calls for the sweetbreads to be soaked in cold water (not an unusual instruction) and here is what they looked like after an hour:
Most recipes call for blanching but Claire wanted a rather longer cooking time of 20 minutes. Once done, I pulled the meat from the membrane, which was not as fun as it sounds.
And so then I moved onto the sauce. It’s just a simple white sauce and I used salt and pepper for seasoning because I wanted the sweetbreads to take center stage.
To serve, I spooned it onto a plate with some toast points on the side. People in the 1920s loved their cream sauce/creamed things on toast and I figured that Windsor would follow that toasty trend.
Rating: 3 out of 5. I know I kept the seasoning simple but the whole cover the world in cream sauce thing has never worked for me. I like a bit more zip and oomph and at least a blonder roux.
But what about the star ingredient?
My sweetbread verdict: Swoon!
Oh my goodness, these things are DELICIOUS! They taste like a cross between fresh clams and a chicken breast. Very dainty and none of that musty flavor one usually associates with organ meats like liver. I’m so glad I purchased extra packages because I fully intend to try something a little more French with the remaining sweetbreads. Maybe Jacques Pepin’s Sweetbreads in Puff Pastry. Only one person offered to taste this with me but we cleaned our plates and were ready for more. So there!
If you can’t get sweetbreads, you can substitute chicken, clams, crab, shrimp, any delicate meat. Firm, pressed tofu could be very nice as well. Or some kind of meaty mushroom. However, I honestly would not have liked this recipe as much as I did without it being my intro to sweetbreads. Do try to track them down, they’re worth it. (In my area, Mexican markets are often the best source for these kinds of cuts but availability will vary depending on your area.)
In future, if I see sweetbreads on the menu, I will order them lickety-split and I will certainly buy as many packages as possible if I see them in the store. Yes, they’re that good.
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Have to admit I have never eaten sweetbreads, even in my wild and frivolous youth when I tried every food imaginable (obviously my imagination in no way mirrored Claire Windsor’s). Not something I’ve seen on restaurant menus in the U.S. either, though a favorite food hang, L’Avenue Bistro in Toronto, used to have them on the menu served with mushrooms- morels, if memory serves. Are they just not something American foodie palates crave, I wonder?
They do seem inexplicably unpopular given their amazing flavor. They are a bit of a hassle (soaking, blanching, pulling off membrane) but well worth it. Besides Mexican and Kosher markets, I have never seen them offered for sale the way I have seen kidneys, tripe and liver, though I understand that some Argentine restaurants serve them. It took me WEEKS to find a place that would order mine.
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