I have a feeling that if you asked a child what sweetbreads are, and then asked a chef, you’d get wildly varying answers. The word “sweetbread” first popped up in the 1500s, and it’s hard to tell what part of the animal they were referring to: historians generally agree that it’s likely the thymus gland or pancreas. Today, the word is often used for many small organs, from the sublingual gland to (gasp!) the testicle. Common sense assumes that these glands were eaten regularly throughout history, and was probably highly sought after due to their rarity (in relation to the rest of the food you get from an animal) and delicacy.
When my friends at US Wellness Meats offered to send me some of their lamb sweetbreads to try, I jumped at the opportunity; I hadn’t made them at home before, and I was up for a challenge. It turns out that they are relatively simple to make, they just take a little finesse and patience. To fill out the dish, I wanted to add something hearty and filling (cauliflower purée), something sweet (a pear reduction sauce), and a firm texture to make sure the dish didn’t turn out to “mushy” and to add a sharper taste to everything (spring greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette). It all turned out beautifully.