Braised Veal Sweetbreads with Fennel and Tomato

Braised Veal Sweetbreads with Fennel and Tomato
Cook Time
6 servings

I think braising is the best way to cook sweetbreads. It’s certainly the lightest way, compared with, say, pan-frying them and serving them with a creamy sauce, which is how theyoften are prepared in restaurants. Here, I coat the sweetbreads (which, for the record, are the thymus gland of a calf) with cornmeal before searing them. This helps keep them crisp even when they are braising. You’ll notice that the braising temperature, at 350°F, is slightlyhigher than usual for this book. This also promotes a crisp crust, and the dense flesh of the sweetbreads can take the higher heat. Since sweetbreads are mild and delicate on their own, you can cook them with almost anything and they will absorb the flavors. This recipe, seasoned with saffron and anise (and, optionally, fennel pollen) and spiked with pastis, was inspired by Provence.



lb(s) sweetbreads, about 4 (8- to 10-ounce) pieces or 8 (4- to 6-ounce) pieces
fennel sticks or 4 licorice sticks
tsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
tsp fennel seeds
tsp white peppercorns
tsp fennel pollen, optional
tsp saffron threads
tsp cayenne pepper
star anise pod
cup polenta or cornmeal
Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Tbsp unsalted butter
garlic cloves, peeled
small fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
cup dry white wine
Tbsp Pernod or pastis
cup chicken stock, low sodium canned broth, or water
plum tomatoes, peeled if desired, halved, and seeded


Step 1

The day before you want to serve this dish, trim the sweetbreads of any fat and veins (or ask your butcher to
do this for you). Put the sweetbreads into a large bowl of ice water and refrigerate them for 24 hours, changing the water twice during this period. Drain and rinse the sweetbreads well.

Step 2

Put a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.

Step 3

Using a small paring knife, make a small hole in each sweetbread and push a fennel stick into it. (Use half a
fennel stick if necessary.)

Step 4

In a spice grinder, finely grind together the salt, fennel seeds, white peppercorns, fennel pollen (if you are using it), saffron, cayenne pepper, and star anise. Season the sweetbreads with this spice mixture and roll each one in
the polenta, coating all sides and shaking off any excess.

Step 5

Warm the olive oil and butter in a medium cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the
sweetbreads, garlic, and fennel and sear until the sweetbreads and fennel are light golden brown on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Deglaze by adding the white wine and pernod, bringing to a boil, and scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Let simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Step 6

Add the chicken stock and tomatoes, bring to a simmer, transfer the pot to the oven, and braise, uncovered,
turning the sweetbreads once, until tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

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