Offal has never been my thing. No matter how much I like the taste or wish I could get on board I just can’t cope with the texture. It’s something I think I was expecting to grow into – a bit like olives and anchovies – and as such I end up tentatively trying something ‘offaly’ about once a year. Last year’s attempt was at the brilliant Soif on Battersea Rise where I had some rather impressive looking calf’s liver with beetroot. The combination worked well and I really really wanted to like it more than I did – it’s a real, “it’s not you, it’s me” situation when it comes to things like this and I wish it wasn’t the case.
That was until I tried sweetbreads a few weeks ago and they turned out to be a total game-changer. I’d never really been sure what sweetbreads are – for some reason I think I always thought they were testicles (??!!) – and so it’s no surprise I’ve always given them a wide berth. When my Dad brought them home the other day my brothers and sisters and I started a quiet grumble of “I don’t think I really like sweetbreads” before prodding them suspiciously in the pan in front of us. And then – “oooh these are really quite good. In fact, these are absolutely delicious”!! The texture is nothing like other offal I’ve tried in the past – much less dense and instead really quite tender with a lovely subtle, delicate flavour.
And it turns out they’re not testicles (or at least not most of the time) and are glands – I’d rather not know which glands but that’s what they are. So when we went to Vinoteca with friends a couple of weeks ago I jumped at them when I saw them on the menu, and they were just as good the second time round. Our friends were equally as skeptical as I had been but I think were pleasantly surprised when forced to try them.
I think the sweetbreads would have gone with either red or white wine but the one we were recommended that evening was a Bobal from Valencia in Spain. Bobal isn’t a grape variety I’ve ever come across before but it was a red wine that was smooth and velvety with a medium body and dark fruit characteristics. Vinoteca was complete heaven for me with a wine list of over 300 wines and I really can’t think why it’s taken me so long to go. We started the evening with a fantastic Vouvray Sec; the waiters were extremely patient with my wine questions and everything we ate and drank was phenomenal.
As for the sweetbreads, if you’re brave enough to try them, I would recommend them the way my Dad cooked them. Buy them from your butcher and make sure they’ve been prepared (they need to be soaked for quite a while and removed of any sinew) before pan frying them in butter in a heavy based frying pan with some dried breadcrumbs. They will only need a couple of minutes each side.