Sweetbreads + Morels = Vernal Bliss

April 9, 2012

I am…a mushroom on whom the dew of heaven drops now and then.
~John Ford, The Broken Heart (1633)

A subtle tryst…seductively nutty, meaty, sponge-like fungi coupled with naughtily rich, creamy and velvety offal. Not much could be finer on earth. Spring rapture.

When shopping, make sure the sweetbreads are still virginal white, fleshy, plump and firm to the touch. As they are perishable, prep them that day and cook no later than the next. The elusive morel? Well, if you cannot precisely hunt and identify these mysterious foresty morsels–who inhabit logged and decaying elms, poplar, white ash, cherry and maple trees and tend to grow in heavy leaf cover, dried creek bottoms and heavy foliage, even clinging to river banks and mossy areas with rich black, humic soil–then know someone willing to discreetly reveal their caches (you will be sworn to secrecy) or attend the farmer’s market with wallet agape.

SWEETBREADS & MORELS

1 1/2 to 2 lbs sweetbreads, preferably veal
Whole milk

Sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
8 peppercorns
8 pink peppercorns
Cold water

All-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 T unsalted butter
2 garlics, peeled and smashed

3 T unsalted butter
3-4 C morel mushrooms, cleaned and halved lengthwise

2 T unsalted butter
Duck fat
3/4 C yellow Vidalia onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 T calvados or cognac
3/4 C dry red wine, such as a Rhône or Burgundy
1 1/2 C chicken stock
3 thyme sprigs, bound in twine
1 bay leaf

2 T apple cider vinegar
1-2 T Dijon mustard
3/4 C crème fraîche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

The Prep
Briefly rinse sweetbreads under cold water. Place them in a glass bowl, cover with milk, and allow to soak several hours. Remove the sweetbreads, discarding the milk. Using a sharp paring knife and fingers, remove excess membrane or fat. Do not be intimidated by the peeling process, and do not fret if the sweetbreads separate some into sections. Rinse, pat dry and set aside.

Fill a heavy large saucepan or pot about three-quarters full of water, add a generous pinch of salt, lemon juice, bay leaf, shallot and peppercorns. Bring the water to a boil, add the sweetbreads, and poach for about 8-10 minutes. Remove the sweetbreads and briefly plunge them into an ice bath, then drain promptly and dry thoroughly.

Line a medium sheet pan with a kitchen towel and place the poached sweetbreads on the towel in a single layer. Fold the towel over them to cover, then place a same-sized sheet pan on top. Weigh the top pan down with whatever, e.g., a brick, tomato cans, a hand weight. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight. Remove from towel, place on a platter or dish, cover with plastic wrap and allow to reach room temperature before cooking.

The Cook
Season sweetbreads first with salt and pepper and then dust with flour in a large glass bowl. Melt butter with garlic in a heavy, large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Discard garlic then lightly brown sweetbreads, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove sweetbreads to a dish, loosely tent, and set aside for later.

In a medium heavy skillet, heat butter over medium to medium high and add morels. Sauté until they release their liquid and are just slightly softened, then remove to a glass bowl and set aside.

Over medium high heat, add butter and a small spoonful of duck fat in the same heavy large skillet or sauté pan used for the sweetbreads earlier. Add the onions and cook until translucent and then just slightly golden. Deglaze the pan with calvados or brandy and allow to mostly evaporate. Then, add red wine and stock, increase heat to a boil and then reduce to a lively simmer.

Add sweetbreads, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, cover and gently simmer, until cooked yet still quite tender, about 8-10 minutes. Toward the end, add the sautéed morels and the juices from them. Then, carefully remove sweetbreads and morels to a dish, loosely tented. Also remove and discard the thyme sprig bouquet and bay leaf. Add the apple cider vinegar, mustard and crème fraîche and, stirring, reduce the sauce further over a higher heat until it thickens and nicely coats the back of a spoon. If necessary, season with salt and pepper to your liking. Add the sweetbreads and morels back into the pan to heat and briefly bathe in the sauce before plating.

Serve over a mound of lentils (lentilles) du Puy, puréed potatoes or turnips, fresh cappellini, or risotto. Plate sweetbreads and drizzle all with sauce, then garnish with chopped tarragon leaves.

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