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Use the Whole Animal: How To Cook Sweetbreads

If one was ever to visit the butcher and ask for sweetbreads, and the butcher replied, "I'm not a baker," it is time to change butchers.

As long as people have been hunting and butchering, and of course eating, the right thing to do is to never let anything go to waste. Years ago, many parts of animals were cooked for the enjoyment of eating. Today, the most popular parts of the animals that people eat are the muscles. But the other parts of calfs and lambs are delicious, such as sweetbreads, the Thymus gland from the neck of the animal. The culinary world calls organs and other parts of an animal offal.

Freddie Bitsoie in the kitchen

I grew up in a family that practiced butchering sheep and rarely lambs as part of family dinners and get-togethers. These were times in my life that I remember how my cultural practices were the norm. I was not different nor was I strange practicing what many people might think of as odd or "uncivilized." Everyone would butcher and take part in this wonderful ritual of food preparation. It was always a game to the kids: who could eat the strange parts of the lamb. These were the parts the elders and parents would eat. When were were very young, my cousins and siblings would look at each other and wonder why anyone would eat those parts. Yet as we trialed our way through different parts of the lamb, we started to select more than the muscle. I picked what I liked, and sweetbreads were one of them, as they are today.

My grandmother told me it is best to soak sweetbreads in salt water for a while. Later on I found out that it removes a layer around them, making them more tender. Today I soak them for a minimum of two hours. After this she would cut them into small pieces, dust them in flour and sear them till they had a nice skin around them. Then she would sweat some onions and fry some diced potatoes until they were fully cooked. At this point, she would add the sweetbreads and cook thoroughy. I used to wrap them in a tortilla with green chili. That was one of my favorite home foods.

Today I serve sweetbreads over boiled potatoes. If you can get a hold of elk and deer sweetbread, this recipe will work as well.

Sweetbreads Recipe

2 pounds of calf or lamb sweetbreads 
1 small onion, small dice
2 Tablespoons of fresh chopped sage
2 springs of thyme
1 clove minced garlic
14 oz beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup flour
3 Tablespoons Canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 Table spoon butter

Boiled Potatoes
8 red potatoes
3 Table spoons of fresh parsley
To taste Salt and Pepper

1. place Potatoes in large pot and cover water
2. bring to a boil and allow the potatoes cook until fork tender, do not allow the potatoes break apart in the water
3. Once they are done, drain them and set in bowl.
4. lightly mash them with a fork and season with salt and pepper
5. Add the parsley

1. Cut sweetbreads into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2. dust the pieces with flour
3. Heat a saute pan and pour in the oil
4. Add the sweetbreads in batches and sear. Make sure they for am outer skin
5. After all the sweetbreads are seared remove them and set aside.
6. Place the onions, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and sweat until onions are transparent
7. Pour the red wine in and reduce till all liquid is gone
8 Pour in the Beef stock and bring to boil, then reduce the head and reduce the stock
9. Add the sweetbreads back into the pan and allow to simmer for about 15 min
10. The flour that coated the sweetbreads should help the stock thicken a bit.
11. Remove the thyme springs and add the butter
12. Serve over the potatoes.

Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie is dedicated to defining and promoting Native American cuisine. He owns FJBits Concepts and Consultant, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.