I first tasted lamb sweetbreads in the early 1980s at St. Estèphe, the pioneering contemporary-Southwestern restaurant in Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles. Chef John Sedlar used to serve them there in a New Mexican chile sauce with hominy (posole), in pretty little copper cassolettes, and they were memorably good. I once tried to create a lamb sweetbread dish of my own—something with tomatillos and pearl onions, if I recall correctly. Assuming that the sweetbreads had to be blanched and peeled like veal sweetbreads, I spent at least two hours scrupulously picking bits of tissue off a couple of pounds of them, pretty much reducing them to rubble in the process. (The dish turned out to be edible but hardly brilliant.) When I chanced to mention this misadventure to a French chef of my acquaintance shortly thereafter, he laughed heartily and said, “But you don’t peel lamb sweetbreads! They’ll fall apart!” Sedlar agrees, but says that he does peel off the larger pieces of membrane, which are easily removed. Beyond that, he counsels, there’s no point in getting obsessive about it. Here is his recipe.
Rinse posole well, then let soak overnight in cold water in a large bowl. The next day, drain posole and rinse again, then place in a pot with bacon, garlic, onion, and oregano. Cover with 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil over low to medium heat, skimming occasionally. Simmer posole until puffed and tender, about 3½ hours. Add more water if necessary to keep posole covered. Drain posole, remove and discard bacon, garlic, and oregano, and set posole aside.
About half an hour before posole is done, bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, carefully slide sweetbreads into water, and poach for 20 minutes. Have ready a large bowl of ice water. When sweetbreads are cooked, drain carefully and plunge them into water to stop cooking. Drain again. Remove any pieces of clear membrane that pull off easily, and cut sweetbreads into pieces about 1½″ square. Set aside.
While sweetbreads are poaching,
Stir sweetbreads and puréed chiles together in a large bowl so that sweetbreads are coated evenly. In a large skillet, sauté sweetbreads in a small amount of oil over medium-high heat until crisp, turning them as necessary. Drain on paper towels.
Warm posole over a bain-marie if necessary, then divide evenly among 6 deep bowls. Top with equal amounts of sweetbread mixture.
© 1992 Colman Andrews. All rights reserved.