2.06.2016

L'Imparfait Parfait

If you speak French, you might think the title of this post means The Imperfect Perfect.

Close. It means The Imperfect Parfait.

And that, in itself, is misleading because it wasn't the parfait that was imperfect, it was the recipe.

Even then, it was less an imperfect recipe and more a recipe lost in translation.

My friend Greg, from Sippity Sup, recently wrote a post on interpreting recipes; it's definitely worth reading. Translating/interpreting recipes is something we, as cooks, do all the time. We look at old recipe cards and cookbooks - even new cookbooks - and we do our best to create the dish the author intended.

It doesn't always work. There is an art to writing a recipe so that it is clear to anyone, especially a beginner. Sometimes we need to redo the recipe to make it work.

Today's recipe is one of those recipes. It came from Wine Grower and Food Lover... Régine Sumeire - 50 Family Recipes. She tells us that the original recipe is from a friend of hers in Québec, and the Régine shares her edited version. I saw the title and was immediately smitten.

Parfait of Sweetbreads? Oh, my! But looking at the recipe, I knew this was going to require some serious translation. Several other people I know looked at it, as well, and felt there was something missing. My first attempt was made as written. We ended up with an unctuous soup, not a parfait. But the flavor was exquisite. It was now time to tinker.

For the second trial of the recipe, I took the advice of my friend Susan, a Cordon Bleu grad, and also made a few of my own changes. Voilà, it was perfection. I served it with a rosé from the source - La Source Gabriel, a wine created by Reegine Sumeire (Château La Tour de l'Évêque) and her nephew, Roger Blanc Sumeire (Domaine Font-Freye). For more about the wine pairing, visit the Provence WineZine.

I love sweetbreads, and I think you all know that I am speaking of offal, and not breakfast treats. Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of a cow. “Sweetbreads” sounds much nicer, less clinical, doesn't it?

This recipe won't be for everyone. In fact Susan, my friend from the Provence WineZine, is rather creeped out by sweetbreads. For her, and those of you in her camp, I promise a lovely recipe for pasta with grilled seafood next week.

Wishing you perfection with every recipe!

~ David

Parfait of Sweetbreads

I show the original recipe page in the photos of the book above. The recipe that follows works. It is my version of Régine’s version of her friend’s version.

1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup tawny Port
1/4 pound sweetbreads
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place diced onions in a shallow ovenproof saucepan and pour the Port over the onions. Top with the sweetbreads, in once piece. Cover, and bake for 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven, uncover, and set aside sweetbreads on a plate to cool. Place saucepan with onions, Port, and pan juices over medium heat. Cook until liquids are syrupy.

Put cooled sweetbreads in the bowl of a small food processor with a steel blade. Add the reduced port/onion mixture, and process until evenly chopped. Add the lemon juice, butter, and season with salt and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is silky.

Press the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Scoop the parfait into a serving bowl or glass. You will have about 1/2 cup. Smooth the top and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Remove from the refrigerator about 1/2 hour before serving. Spread on water crackers or toasted bread, and serve with a chilled rosé, Sauternes, or a kir.

Serves 4.

Note: this recipe makes very little in quantity, but it is extremely rich and a little goes a long way.

39 comments:

  1. I love all your unique recipes on here! So, having never had sweetbreads - is this sort of like paté? I do love a good paté, so maybe this is something I'd enjoy? How did you end up getting it to be less soupy?

    On the note of translating recipes, have you seen this cool article about these two grad student bloggers who translate centuries-old recipes for modern use? So cool! Here's the article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/how-two-bloggers-re-purpose-centuries-old-recipes-for-modern-cooks/2014/12/26/7dc33d5c-7a65-11e4-84d4-7c896b90abdc_story.html

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    1. Caroline - I can't wait to check out that article! How fun! Thanks for sharing it, as I am sure several readers will enjoy it.

      How did it get less soupy? For starters, after the sweetbreads, onions and port came out of the oven, I removed the sweetbreads to cool them, then reduced the port till it was syrupy. Then, instead of using a blender, as the recipe instructs, I used the food processor as it came me more control. I also used room temperature butter rather than cold.

      Yes, it is like the most delicate liver pâté you could ever taste. Sweetbreads are an acquired taste, but we love them. Grilled with chimichurri sauce is our new favorite way of preparing them.

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    2. Caroline - I just read the article and think this is a great project. And, I can't wait to make the Portugal Cakes. The funny thing is that they referred to currants and rose water as unusual ingredients. Really? I use them all the time.

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    3. Glad you liked the article! I did have a hard time finding rose water when I was trying to find it with the extracts. Once I realized it was with the mediterranean food I've seen it everywhere! And currants, at least dried ones, seem pretty mainstream.

      I might have to try this sometime! Thanks for the explanation of how you modified it to be less soupy! Very interesting.

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  2. I love things like black pudding and haggis, so I'm not opposed of offal and the like, I've just never tried sweetbreads. I'm curious now. Glad you figured out the recipe; it can be frustrating when it's a "bad" recipe. Looking forward to the pasta! :)

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    1. Christina - I really think you would like sweetbreads, both in this iteration and or any other preparation. We, too, are big fans of haggis and blood puddings, and I always look forward to Robert Burns Day.

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  3. My goodness this sounds incredible. The onions soaked and cooked in port is a brilliant idea, and then the sweetbreads come into it. I'd be all over this in a flash!

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    1. This really is tasty, John! I love that so many people I know aren't afraid of offal. Such amazing flavors!

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    1. Damning with faint praise, are we? :) I knew you would not want this, but I might just serve it to you unannounced some day...

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  5. I speak enough French to think exactly what you said. At first glance I thought. Heck yeah, that's one ugly parfait. Where's the whipped cream? Joking aside. I'm very proud of you for "translating" sweetbreads on your blog. I've yet to find a reliable source for them here. GREG

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    1. Thanks, Greg. When I first told my friends at the Provence WineZine that I was making this, she asked, "What kind of horrid dessert is this?" Sorry you can't find sweetbreads - try a Latino market. They are sure to have them!

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  6. Sweetbreads are not my thing, David, but this does sound good.

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    1. Puréed with butter and port wine, this might change your mind! :)

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  7. You are right that, up until now, sweetbreads might never have crossed my lips by choice ... But your beautiful rendition of this recipe makes them very tempting! And, the rosé is terrific, I do know! Love your photos, as always!

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    1. Susan, you much promise me that you will make this. It is so very exquisite, and your friends will be amazed - especially those that don't think they like sweetbreads!

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    2. And I will hold you to that promise! :)

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  8. Dear David, very elegant indeed! Although I have eaten sweetbreads before, I have never found the time yet to prepare them. But I know I should because they have a very special taste and texture that I really enjoy!
    Euch noch einen schönen Sonntag & Bonn Alaaf!
    Andrea

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    1. I am glad you like sweetbreads, Andrea! I was pretty sure you would after knowing you like Blutwurst! Hope you have had a wonderful weekend - looking forward to reading about muffins and pirates!

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  9. David - Ed recently made a chicken liver pâté and I almost had to leave the house - the smell didn't sit well with me but it turned out delicious! Having said that I think reading, not making this recipe is best for me. I very much agreed Greg's piece on interpreting recipes - and agree with his points. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Nicole. This would be the mildest, most subtle version of chicken liver pâté. You might like it! By the way, I will email you, but I seem unable to comment on your blog lately. Not sure why - it says my Captcha was timed out. Weird!

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  10. As you say, I have to read, understand and make it work for me. In the kitchen I always look like a newbie. Reading a recipe is like putting me back in third grade. Wish me luck!

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    1. Cindy - if you find the right recipes, you will go right to the head of the class! I would say that more often than not, the errors are the recipe and not you!

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  11. Yum. I love sweetbreads. Of course, nobody else does, so I've never cooked them myself. My mother used to make for me for my birthday dinner growing up!

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    1. That is wonderful, Mimi! Sometimes, my mother made me liver for special treats when Dad was out of town (he hated liver). It was fun being a weird kid...

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  12. Haha, I like the wordplay in this David! You twisted my brain a little bit (as I did learn French in high school!). Whatever the imperfection might be, your parfait looks lovely and smooth... perfect as part of a posh spread for wine nights! I am a little queasy when it comes to cooking any sort of sweet bread (I know, I know, and I call myself a foodie!) but I do admire the skill behind it. You're entirely right in stating that some recipes 'assume' certain steps are a given... or the descriptions are a little confusing. Glad yours turned out so wonderful regardless!

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    1. I guess I am not really queasy about cooking anything! I think I will try anything once. This recipe, though, might come back again. It is pretty special! I am actually amazed at how many foodies won't touch sweetbreads - I was speaking with another blogger about it and we think it is because they are so rarely prepared in our culture. If they were a "norm," no one would think twice about them.

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  13. David, Your photos are gorgeous and the parfait looks quite appetizing, and elegant. However, I could never bring myself to try it, I have such an aversion to certain foods. Now sweetbreads for breakfast are another story!
    Such an interesting post! I have some very old cookbooks, with very hard to follow directions. I don't even open them anymore.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I have to wonder where you aversion comes from. Do you eat anything with chicken livers, or is that off the list, too? Maybe we can teach ourselves not to have these aversions... not sure.

      As fro the old cookbooks, I sometimes take it as a challenge but, more often than not, I want to see a translation. In "Monet's Garden" we can see his old recipes, and then the same recipe with some translation. It helps a lot.

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  14. I've enjoyed virtually all forms of offal, David, but never have I tried sweetbreads. This preparation, however, sounds wonderful. What a special treat to serve your guests! I've certainly not seen anything like it or surely I'd raving about it now.

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    1. John - I think you would really love them. To me, they are so different than most offal. Great texture, and very delicate flavor.

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  15. Wow, this is a beautiful dish! Although, I'm with your friend Susan's camp and I'm a bit creeped out by sweetbreads. My husband, however, loves them and if he sees this he will surely beg to try it. :)

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    1. Marcelle - you should give them a try! No weirder than many other things we eat! :)

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  16. A number of years ago there were a couple local restaurants that did a great job with sweetbreads and it was a favorite dish of mine. Not quite sure it is something I would want to eat after preparing it myself. I think you are a braver soul than me!

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    1. It took no bravery at all, Inger - and we enjoyed several batches of sweetbreads making this recipe, as well as a few others!

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  17. Even though I'm a foodie, I'm in Susan's camp on this one although I read that she promised she would make this. I've tried lots of different things but sweetbreads is a taste that I'll pass on. Now if it was liver prepared the some way, I'd love it. Your presentation is quite lovely. :)

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    1. I am surprised, Karen! This is actually much more delicate than liver! :) Who knows, maybe someone will serve it to you someday without telling you what it is...

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