Friday, November 20, 2015

Ris de Veau or Ris d'Agneau - Sweetbreads on French Menus. When sweetbreads are on the menu in France do not pass them by.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated December 2021

Thyme-roasted sweetbreads over polenta.
Photograph courtesy of Edsel Little.

Veal or lamb sweetbreads will be on many French menus. Chefs and gourmands highly prize these uniquely delicate cuts with their clear and mild flavor and texture

Where do these cuts come from?

Sweetbreads are the best of the inside cuts like liver, tongue, and kidneys. Sweetbreads are the pancreas and thymus glands, with some gourmands preferring one to the other; others prefer veal over lamb. I, however, cannot tell the difference when these delicate cuts are served with a light sauce or fried. Sweetbreads have a somewhat similar texture to the most delicate milk-fed calf's liver, but the similarity ends, and please note that I only said similar, not the same.

Crispy sweetbreads.
Photograph courtesy of Edsel Little
What does the word sweetbread mean?

Sweetbreads contain no bread. notes the word comes from old English where "swēte meant sweet and "bræd" meant flesh; hence sweetbreads for sweet meat.

In North America and the UK, sweetbreads are rarely on the menu. Nevertheless, sweetbreads are a delicacy, and in France, all good French restaurants will regularly have them on their menus. Sweetbreads may be on the menu fried, poached, grilled, stewed, and even roasted in the oven. Sweetbreads may also be served as hot or cold hors d'oeuvres. From my experience, sweetbreads are best when offered with simple dishes that do not include tastes that compete with the meat's delicate flavor. 

Sweetbreads on French menus:

Ris de Veau - Calf sweetbreads.

Ris d'Agneau- Lamb sweetbreads

Ris de Chevreau Kid sweetbreads. A 4-6-month-old goat, a kid, a chevreau's sweetbreads will also be on some menus.

Cassolette d'Escargots et Ris d'Agneau à l'Oseille - A snail stew made with lamb sweetbreads and flavored with sorrel. A snail cassoulet is very different to the meat cassoulets of Southern France.

Ravioles de Ris d'Agneau au Gingembre et Citron - Ravioli stuffed with lamb sweetbreads and flavored with lemon and ginger.

Veal sweetbread ravioli served in a cream of artichoke sauce.
Photograph courtesy of Kent Wang

Ris de Veau à la Crème et aux Champignons – Sweetbreads with a cream and button mushroom sauce.

Ris Braise - Lightly fried sweetbreads. The menu should indicate whether these are veal or lamb; if not, ask. While I cannot tell the difference, I like to know anyway.

Crispy veal sweetbreads
with diced parsnips, small potatoes, and black truffles. 
Photograph courtesy of Charles Haynes

Ris de Veau Croustillantes, Jeunes Carottes et Graines de Moutarde  -Crisply fried sweetbreads served with baby carrots and flavored with mustard seeds.

Ris de Veau aux Girolles - Veal sweetbreads prepared with wild chanterelle mushrooms.

Ris de Veau Poêlée, Jus à la Cardamone et Panais - Lightly fried veal sweetbreads served with the sweetbread’s cooking juices flavored with cardamom and accompanied by parsnips. N.B. Cardamom is a spice with a heady aroma and a unique taste often used with hot spiced wines. In Western Europe, outside of France, cardamom is only occasionally seen in the kitchen, and therein lies a small but important difference in European tastes. The Swedes use cardamom in pastries, and cardamom is important for all of Scandinavia. Without cardamom, there would be no Scandinavian Aquavit liquor with 40% alcohol to drink on festive occasions.

Sweetbreads and duck confit ravioli
Photograph courtesy of stu_spivack

Bouchée a la Reine au Ris de Veau – Here, a puff pastry vol-au-vent will be filled with veal sweetbreads with a cream sauce. Originally all Bouchées à la Reine were made with sweetbreads or sweetbreads and chicken; however, that is no longer the case. Bouchée means a small mouthful and is often on the menu as an amuse-gueule, a small complimentary appetizer. Only occasionally will the Bouchée a la Reine on the menu be with veal or lamb sweetbreads, and then it may not be complimentary.

Sweetbreads with fried water chestnuts
Photograph courtesy of Peter Dutton

Why chefs love cooking with sweetbreads.

One of the significant advantages of sweetbreads is that not too easy to overcook them. Unlike many dishes that should spend, at most, one or two minutes in the pan or under the grill and then are forgotten for three extra minutes will see the dish become inedible. Sweetbreads forgive the chef. Sweetbreads will remain juicy for close to double the time indicated in a recipe. Fried sweetbreads will remain crispy on the outside while the interior will be bursting with the juices from the meat even if the recipe indicated frying for 3 or 5 minutes and the chef left them for 10 minutes.

Sweetbreads in French country restaurants

On village and country restaurant menus, there may be ris de porcelet, piglet sweetbreads, or ris de bœuf, beef sweetbreads. These animal's sweetbreads have a stronger taste than lamb or veal, and among the big city cognoscenti, they are not appreciated. These are country comfort foods, and I have enjoyed kid's sweetbreads on more than one occasion in southern France.


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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2018, 2021
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog, write to Bryan Newman

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1 comment:

  1. We have a few halal markets in our area, Montgomery County, MD, one of which has ris d'agneau. I was so delighted to find a place to get it, and affordable as well.