Tuesday, May 4, 2010

2010 Challenge: Gautreau's

When Dre and Dieter were in town, we spent the Saturday night before Easter in the warm embrace of Sue Zemanick, chef at Gautreau's. Of the multitude of delicious things we ate that evening, one in particular has stuck in my craw. It was a simple dish of smoky, braised collard greens topped by a perfectly crisp sweetbread. While I can complain that one orb of gland seemed miserly, the flavor of the dish spoke volumes about how talented Chef Zemanick is.

So of course I had to try it at home.

Sweetbreads with Collard Greens and Mustard Beurre Blanc

A few things off the bat. Most cuts of meat from any animal can be called "gross" by someone. That said, sweetbreads are not the balls of any animal. They come from the thymus gland of a calf or lamb, but mostly the former. When cooked properly, they become tender and rich like a teenage millionaire with low self esteem.

Now where to find them? Well, I am sure if you asked your grocer, they could source them for you. But the friendly and knowledgeable folks at the Rare Cuts in River Ridge have them in stock. Cooking sweetbreads is a multi-step, two day process. The first step is to soak the sweetbreads overnight in some cold water in the fridge. Change the water every few hours. This draws out many of the impurities and blood.

I used the basic technique for cooking sweetbreads from Susan Spicer's Crescent City Cooking. Here is the short form, mirepoix in pan, saute for 5 minutes. Add sweetbreads, wine, water to cover, salt, bay leaf, peppercorns. Bring to boil, then lower for a simmer, and cook until tender like a young woman's breast (her words, not mine).

Then plunge sweetbreads into an ice bath, place on a baking sheet, place another baking sheet on top, weigh it down, and let smoosh in the fridge for at least an hour. Then you can trim off some of the outer membrane and portion. Dust in flour and pan fry in some olive oil and butter.

While the sweetbreads cooked, cooled, and smooshed, make some collards. Saute small dice of tasso until crusty. Add to this a diced onion and some whole garlic cloves. I like to keep the garlic whole because it develops a sweet, nutty flavor. Then add your collards, some salt, hot sauce, cup of water (or stock), and slowly cook for as long as you got.

I made a simple mustard beurre blanc with some wine, mustard and butter in order to bring some acid and punch to what are very rich and hearty flavors. If you want the recipe, just ask, but Google is easier.

Cooking sweetbreads at home had its trying moments, as learning how to cook them is something that is best shown by example rather than read in a book. For instance, distinguishing between membrane, fatty tissue, and the meat proved challenging.

At the end of the excursion, we had a meal that wasn't overly challenging to prepare, but brought a sense of celebration to the table. We pulled out the nice wine glasses, the "company" place mats, and ate while the rain thundered down. Perhaps more importantly, the process also made me appreciate how a well-made sweetbread in a restaurant speaks volumes about a chef's craft.

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