Cost per Person: $2.93
Net carbs: 4-5 g (from the carrots and black soybeans)
Sheesh, its been a while since I've posted here. I've been hopping back and forth between the West Coast and Boston, and have been really bad about exercising (my exercise bike time is usually when I write up these blog posts.) Since you've waited so long for the blog posts to start back off, I thought I would start out with something that is either awesome or horrifying depending on how culinarily adventurous you are: sweetbreads! I'm really loving our ability to get more exotic (and often considered 'higher end') meats on a budget out in CA.
OK, the basics for the uninitiated: sweet breads are not bread. Oh my no. They are various delicious organs of the cow, typically the thymus and pancreas. They have a velvety, slightly sweet taste with just a hint of minerality. Its difficult to describe the texture and taste. Definitely a much milder taste than liver, and the texture is also smoother and less chewy. But the texture is more similar to liver than, say, to steak. Its kind of like if you mixed foie gras and a little bit of beef flavor and then somehow cooked it so it was a little firmer than foie gras normally is, but not as firm as beef liver. Anyway, I am a huge fan. If foie gras is goose butter and uni is sea butter, then sweetbreads are beef butter.
I was lucky enough to find a big old pack of sweetbreads at the local Mexican carniceria, on sale for $2.29/lb. Apparently they are often grilled and eaten in tacos. Way to go Mexican cuisine, you're doing it right.
Since I had an ungodly amount of sweetbreads, and most of them would need to be eaten at a single meal as they go bad very quickly, I decided immediately that I would try to cook them three different ways: pan-fried, grilled, and smoked. That part was easy to figure out...picking vegetable accompaniments to each was a little tougher. I had some spinach in the fridge that I'd bought for $0.49, and I remembered a delicious spinach salad my favorite wine bar used to make with bacon & smoked asparagus. So I decided I'd make the same salad, but sauté the asparagus and get the smoky flavor from some smoked sweetbreads. For the pan-fried sweetbreads I thought a more traditional New England-y vegetable accompaniment might go well, and there were some carrots and radishes in the fridge that were on the bubble... so I decided to roast those up. For the grilled sweetbreads, I wanted to stick with the Mexican theme, so I planned to chop them up and mix them with various fillings (beans, enchilada sauce, zucchini blossoms, chiles, etc.) and stuff some peppers with them.
So, let's start with the losing recipe. The stuffed peppers had some flaws. First of all, the filling I made was so flavorful that it overwhelmed the sweetbreads. Also, we ended up just grilling them on the foreman grill, as our charcoal had gotten wet and we were too lazy/pressed for time to buy new. So all the flavor that the grill would normally put on the sweetbreads was lost. They ended up tasting like just another bland, soggy ingredient in a decent but not amazing stuffed pepper. I think it would have all tasted a lot better if I'd just made a simple chile relleno stuffed with adobera cheese and grilled sweetbreads. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.
The runner up recipe was the pan-fried sweetbreads. The roasted carrots & radishes were a big hit with Omeed (he really likes when veggies are roasted - especially how they get that dry and caramelized outside and then the inside is delicious and gooey.) The pan-fried sweetbreads were pretty similar to how I've always had them cooked in restaurants... though they probably could have benefitted from either a higher frying temperature or some breadcrumbs/pork rind crumbs mixed in to the batter. The outside breading wasn't as super crispy as I'd hoped, but I do tend to be a little bit shy about how long I leave things in the frying oil.
The clear winner, however, was the smoked sweetbread spinach salad. To smoke the sweetbreads, I just threw them in our smoker for an hour at 275 degrees, with a cup of applewood chips in the hopper. They reduced to about half their size and got a lovely dark brown color on the outside. I chilled them for about 10 minutes in the freezer and then sliced them and put them on the salad, which was just spinach, sautéed asparagus, and crumbled bacon dressed with a basic balsamic vinaigrette. There were some really good flavor and texture combinations going on there, especially the crunch of the bacon and asparagus with the silky smooth texture of the sweetbreads. I really don't want to eat sweetbreads any other way now.
So, unfortunately, all this dining victory does come at a little bit of a price. Sweetbreads are a bit of a bitch to prepare. If you are up for the task, here's what you need to do *before* you get to the part where you're actually cooking those puppies:
- Remove the sweetbreads from their packaging, put in a bowl, cover with cold water, and let soak for 2-3 hours. This will whiten them and help get some of the blood out. If you notice any large blood vessels near the surface of the sweetbreads, it is a great idea to give them a little poke with the tip of a knife, this will make a small hole for any residual blood to get out through.
- Wash the sweetbreads off, toss the water, and repeat step 1. Gotta make sure all the blood is out of those suckers!
- Wash the sweetbreads off, put them in a deep saucepan or stockpot, and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and boil the sweetbreads for 5 minutes. This will help firm them up.
- Drain the sweetbreads and put them in the freezer for 10 minutes to cool them off. Remove from freezer, and using a paring knife or poultry knife carefully remove as much of the tough outer membrane as you can. The membrane is tricky and seems to be all over the place, so in the process you may end up dividing one big sweetbread into several smaller pieces.
- NOW you are ready to cook that sucker.