Sweetbreads with a Rustic Red Wine Sauce

Fresh lamb sweetbreads and some ingredients to cook them.
Copyright: angelsimon

Sweetbreads are those pieces of offal which are favoured in restaurants but rarely eaten at home. They are elegant morsels of two separate glands taken from an anima, usually lambs, calves as veal. The glands are the thymus gland that comes from the throat and the pancreas gland which is taken from the heart or stomach.

Sweetbreads are available from most butchers but they are nowadays ordered in advance. Sourcing should be from a responsible butcher who obtains meat from animals kept to the highest welfare standards.

One of the Masterchef – The Professionals skills (Series 13, episode 2) test and it turned out to be highly exacting for some of the chefs. Marcus Waring went for a rustic sauce to accompany his sweetbreads. They had 20 minutes for this and the sauce probably took up the majority of the time.

Preparation of sweetbreads:

Sweetbreads ought to be soaked in several changes of cold water for a few hours. They are often simmered for a couple of minutes in a light veal or vegetable stock that might be used for a sauce veloute.

Generally the sauce is prepared before handling teh sweetbreads because of the relatively short time it takes to cook them.


  • 2 sweetbreads
  • pancetta or really thick bacon to make lardons. The rind is removed but all the fat is left so it renders down.
  • 2 shallots – finely chopped.
  • 2 cloves garlic – sliced
  • 6 white button or chestnut mushrooms or even both – roughly cut up.
  • thyme – a few sprigs for the sauce and the sweetbreads
  • 1 -2 tbsp. Brandy
  • 50ml red wine
  • 200ml veal stock or other meat stock but not poultry in this case.
  • white flour/all-purpose flour for coating the sweetbreads
  • 1 tbsp butter – cubed
  • 1 small bunch of flat parsley – finely chopped

The Sauce:

  1. Cut the bacon thickly into lardons and big chunks.
  2. Add a tbsp of oil to a frying pan, heat on a moderate setting, add the bacon to the pan and  fry it gently so it browns.  You could even should start with a cold frying pan and just add the chunks to render the fat down as the fat alone will help with the sauce flavour.
  3. Add the chopped shallots, sliced garlic and mushrooms to the pan.
  4. Add a couple of sprigs of thyme to the pan.
  5. Let the whole sauce just  fry for a few minutes and then add some brandy.
  6. With a torch, set fire to it but don’t singe your face which I am more than likely to do. This needs care but it adds to the charm and flavour of the dish. Once the alcohol has burnt off, add about 50ml of red wine. Keep frying to reduce the red wine. By this time the sauce making would have taken about 10 minutes!

Preparing The Sweetbreads:

  1. The sweetbreads are prepared by removing the sinews with a knife. These are tough pieces that appear quite obvious. Coat them with flour. When fried the flour coating helps to protect the surface of the offal so it doesn’t stick to the pan as well as contributing some browning. 
  2. Using a fresh frying pan or skillet, just add a tbsp. of cooking oil, heat up and add the floured sweetbreads. Add two or three cloves of crushed garlic. Some bay leaves and sprigs of thyme  also went in.
  3. Keep frying but try to avoid them going too dark. Turn them after a few minutes. Add some butter (cubed). 
  4. Baste the sweetbreads as they fry with the butter continually with a spoon, which helps to brown and make them slightly crispy. They are cooked when you as a chef just touch them and they are soft and springy to feel. It is a matter of judgement because the butter should help crisp them slightly but they are overdone when they are too brown and feel tough.
  5. The sauce needs to have the veal stock (or other reduced meat stock) added to it. That is cooked further on so it thickens up. Add a small bunch for finely chopped up flat parsley.
  6. To plate up, just put the sauce with lardons in the middle of a plate, perhaps one with a bowl like a risotto bowl, so it forms a base and then place the sweetmeats on the top.
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