Meat Market: What is Sweetbread?

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Sweetbreads or ris are culinary names for the thymus (throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread) and the pancreas (heart, stomach, or belly sweetbread), especially of the calf (ris de veau) andlamb (ris d’agneau) (although beef and pork sweetbreads are also eaten).

The “heart” sweetbreads are more spherical in shape, and surrounded symmetrically by the “throat” sweetbreads, which are more cylindrical in shape.

One common preparation of sweetbreads involves soaking in salt water, then poaching in milk, after which the outer membrane is removed. Once dried and chilled, they are often breaded andfried. They are also used for stuffing or in pâtés. They are grilled in many Latin American cuisines, such as in the Argentine asado, and served in bread in Turkish cuisine.

The word “sweetbread” is first attested in the 16th century, but the logic behind the name is unclear. Sweet” is perhaps used since the thymus is sweet and rich tasting, as opposed tosavory tasting muscle flesh. “Bread” may come from brede ‘roasted meat’.

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