Calves’ Sweetbreads with Warm Dressing and Potato and Olive Cakes

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • For



Appears in

Cooking at the Merchant House

By Shaun Hill

Published 2000

  • About

Sweetbreads are sold as either heartbreads or throatbreads. The better of the two are the fist-shaped heartbreads. These are thymus glands and, despite all the male sniggering whenever they appear on the menu, have no connection whatsoever with delicacies from the trouser area. They are expensive and have become a luxury item. A small portion, though, makes a fine first course, providing that the accompanying potato and olive cake is also smaller than usual. If you have veal demi-glace, a warmed teaspoonful served over the sweetbreads is especially fine.


  • 750g (1lb 10oz) calves’ sweetbreads
  • a dash of vinegar
  • a little olive oil, for frying
  • 4 potato and olive cakes
  • salt and pepper

For the Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 100 ml (fl oz/scant ½ cup) sunflower oil
  • 100ml ( fl oz/scant ½ cup) olive oil
  • 100ml ( fl oz/scant ½ cup) veal stock or water
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley


Soak the sweetbreads for at least 1 hour in cold water. Cut away most of the membrane from the outside, leaving just enough to hold the sweetbreads together.

Place the sweetbreads in a saucepan with a dash of vinegar, a little salt and pepper and enough water to just cover. Top with a circle of greaseproof or parchment paper, or the wrapping from a pack of butter. Bring to the boil, simmer for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool in the cooking liquor. The sweetbreads should look set but still be soft to the touch.

Take out the sweetbreads and cut them into even, rather thick slices. Season and brush with olive oil, then fry them in a hot pan until brown on each side. If the slices are very thick or the sweetbreads were particularly soft, they will need a further 5 minutes in a hot oven while you prepare the dressing and cook the potato and olive cakes.

Make the dressing by mixing together the mustard, vinegar and egg yolk in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the oils – like mayonnaise.

In a small saucepan, heat the stock or water with the capers, shallot and parsley. Bring to the boil, then remove the saucepan from the direct heat and whisk in the dressing. You can keep the mixture warm but do not reboil.

Spoon the dressing onto warmed plates. Lay the sweetbreads on top and a potato cake to one side, then serve.