Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mollejas tacos (sweetbread tacos)

sweetbreads tacos mollejas

Mom asked me what I’d eaten that day. I was visiting her in Houston, and she’s always amused by how much I pack into my belly in such a short amount of time. As I ran down my list, which included enchiladas, tortilla soup, chips and salsa, I mentioned I’d had sweetbread tacos.

“Sweetbread tacos?” she said. “That sounds good!” My mom has a sweet tooth, and she assumed that sweetbread meant, well, a sweet bread. When I explained to her that sweetbreads aren’t actually breads, and instead they’re the thymus glands of a cow—let’s just say she was less than enthused.

Now, this is often a common reaction from people when you mention sweetbreads. (A strange name, yes, but I reckon it’s a bit more enticing than calling them cow glands). I myself was afraid to try them until one day several of us were having a fancy French meal in New York, and my friends being far more experienced with sweetbreads than I, assured me that I would like them.

mollejas sweetbread tacos

And they were correct.

Typically, they’re either pan fried or grilled, which gives the meat a crisp bite that yields to a silky center. The flavor is a little minerally and a little earthy—if you enjoy fried chicken liver or fried oysters, then you’ll enjoy sweetbreads. To paraphrase Hugh Acheson, they’re like the world’s best chicken nugget.

While they are very popular in France, they’re seen less often on American menus. Though in South Texas, as well as Northern Mexico, they’re very popular. When driving around the Rio Grande Valley, you’ll see mollejas, which is how you say sweetbreads in Spanish, at most taquerias. And many South Texas cooks will serve skewers of mollejas along with fajitas, ribs and other meats when they fire up the grill.

If you’ve never cooked with sweetbreads, there’s a bit of labor involved—namely soaking them for a few hours to remove some of the blood, and then parboiling them, which helps the membrane and the gristly bits separate from the meat. Also note that they’re highly perishable and need to be cooked within a day of purchasing.

After I’ve soaked and boiled my sweetbreads, I then marinated them again in a spiced-up buttermilk for a few hours for a bit of flavor. Now, in South Texas, mollejas are often grilled but because I don’t have an outdoor space, I pan fry mine instead. To ensure an extra crisp shell, I lightly dredge them in flour before cooking.

A lack of a grill, however, does not make them less flavorful. And once they’re cooked, when you take a bite you’ll see that all that work was worth it. To serve, I like to scoop them into warm tortillas, top them with pico de gallo and sour cream. They make for a fine taco and a rich one too, as mollejas are not a lean meat.

mollejas sweetbread tacos

I’m still not sure if I can get my mom to try mollejas. But if you’re an adventurous eater or craving a taste of South Texas, then I highly recommend them. Sweetbreads may not be sweet, but they sure are delectable.

Mollejas tacos (sweetbread tacos)

1 pound veal sweetbreads
1 cup buttermilk
1 jalapeño sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Warm tortillas, pico de gallo and sour cream for serving

Place the sweetbreads in a sealable container, cover with cold water, and soak for at least 2 hours.

Discard the soaking water and place the sweetbreads into a pot large enough to hold them. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Allow the sweetbreads to cook until they are white and puffy, about 5 minutes. Drain sweetbreads in a colander and then place in a bowl with ice water to stop them from cooking.

Take the cooked sweetbreads and pat dry with a paper towel. You’ll see a thin membrane, which you need to peel off of the meat. Chop off any gristly bits and then chop the sweetbreads into 1-inch sized pieces.

In a sealable container, place the chopped and cleaned sweetbreads and cover with the buttermilk, jalapeño, garlic and cumin. Soak for at least 2 hours. Drain and rinse the sweetbreads. Mix together the flour, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Taste and adjust seasonings. Lightly sprinkle the sweetbreads with salt and pepper and then dredge into the flour.

In a large skillet on medium low, heat up the butter. Add the floured sweetbreads and cook on each side until lightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Serve with warm tortillas, pico de gallo and sour cream.

4 servings

Sweetbreads are highly perishable and need to be cooked within a day of purchasing. Once cooked, however, they can keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.



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Renée said...

My grandmother, a fourth generation Texan, used to deep fry sweetbreads. The recipes I've seen online call for dredging them in cornmeal. She just used a light coating of flour, seasoned with salt and pepper. They were delicious.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Renée--I like your grandmother's approach, and I think a light dredge in cornmeal would also be delicious.

Jennifer in Austin said...

This sounds really good, and at my local HEB they sell these. I'm going to give this a shot and try it.

Ellicia said...

Sweetbreads have a delicious taste, but ohhh that texture. I just can't get past it.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Jennifer--Hope you enjoy them!

Ellicia--The texture is an acquired taste, that's for sure.

michelle.eilers said...

Lisa, where can I buy sweetbreads in NYC?

Fredericka said...

Wonderful culinary memories of the years we lived in the Rio Grande Valley. My husband had a simple approach - pour some Kitchen Bouquet over the sweetbreads & let them sit a bit. Then he would take aluminum foil with a few holes poked through, make a little open packet & place the sweetbreads in there. Then he would grill them, slice them & put them in freshly-made tortillas - yum!

lynn said...

Let's say sweetbreads aren't your thing or you can't find them easily. What would be a passable substitute?

primi timpano said...

My experience is that most of the sweetbreads readily available are cow as opposed to veal sweetbreads. In Dallas some of the Hispanic groceries sell cooked sweetbreads (call ahead)that appear to be roasted whole. They are usually a little over cooked to my taste but they are taco ready.

Next time you are in Houston check out Laredo Taqueria on Cavalcade (yes, there are two other locations--Patton and Washington--but I really like Cavalcade, Patton and Washington in that order). Never have seen sweetbreads but they have an amazing selection that changes throughout the day. My favorites are the pork stews, carnitas, nopales, and chicharones.

Though not Tex-Mex, sweetbreads are also good with a Marsala wine sauce.

Emma said...

These sound delicious! I adore sweetbreads but have only ever seen them in very European/fine dining contexts - pan fried with a smear of something-or-other or as a garnish on an expensive cut of meat. How different this is - I love the idea!

Paul Jerabek said...

I had them, along with other Mexican delights on the menu of a soiree that I catered ...... I was glad that I brought plenty of the other items because the sweetbreads, well ...... they went over just as much as the frog's legs !!!!!

Joe said...

Next time you're in Houston, I'd like to take you to Taqueria Tacambaro. It's a taco truck located behind Canino's Produce on Airline. Maria makes fabulous mollejas tacos. After reading this, I'm going to have to go get me some.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a labor of love to cook these - would definitely be open to trying them but first would want someone else to cook them for me. Feel about the same way about tongue - there is a place here in Denver that makes delicious tongue tacos but when I went to the store to buy tongue to make them myself, the beef tongue looked so much like, well, tongue, that I could not convince myself to do it. I will just keep eating the ones already prepared so deliciously by my local taco shop :)

texichan said...

i fear the sweetbreads... i am a texture eater, and i can't do mushy or fatty-tasting things. oysters are a definite no-go no matter their preparation, so i'm pretty confident these would trigger my gag reflex. it's too bad. i would like to be an adventurous eater, but my body won't let me! :)

Rodolfo said...

We love mollejas down here in Argentina. I've never had them in tacos before, but I'm 100% sure they would be amazing. We have an ongoing debate (which fires up every time mollejas are served) as to whether neck or heart mollejas are best. Most people go for heart mollejas as they tend to be less "grainy" than the neck ones. Both are great grilled fresh (no parboiling, soaking, dredging) with a bit of lemon. Of course, this only applies to really really fresh mollejas. Now I'm starving.
Great blog by the way!
Saludos desde Buenos Aires!

Evi said...

What stores would you find them in? I live in DC, and haven't really come across them. Recipe looks delicious- and I didn't know that they were that perishable.

Deanna said...

I'm going to have to special order some sweet breads. I love them, but I've only ever had them out. My dad would love to have some for his birthday'll go great with the bone marrow he's requested. Definitely not a low calorie meal.

Lindie said...

I have never had them but see them a lot on Food Network. Maybe they're not on many menus in the midwest. I like liver and other internal organs that come from poultry. I don't see that there would be any reason I would not like them! I hae never had tongue either.

Anonymous said...

Yum, I LOVE sweetbread! I haven't tried cooking it yet so will definately have to try this. I don't think the texture is bad, it tastes like buttery meat to me :-p (And I'm not keen on the texture of other organ meat or brain)
Thanks for the recipe!

Anonymous said...

I had just read your post prior to dining at my favorite tapas bar this week-end. Lo and behold, veal sweetbreads were on menu! Neither my husband nor I had ever tried them before so we had to order them. Absolutely delicious!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Michelle--You can find them at most butchers and Whole Foods. You may have to special order them but they should be able to get them to you in a day or so.

Fredericka--That sounds simple and good!

lynn--Hmmm, they're pretty unique so it's hard to make a substitution. For a similar flavor and texture you could try chicken livers.

Primi--Thank you for the Laredo Taqueria tip!

Emma--They're also excellent in fine dining contexts.

Paul--Ha! They are an acquired taste.

Joe--I've been and their tacos are wonderful!

Anon--Tongue is indeed another labor of love that you can't think about too much when you cook it, though it is tasty.

Texichan--If you can't do oysters then sweetbreads probably aren't for you.

Rodolfo--Thank you! I've only seen neck ones here, but I might request heart ones next time.

Evi--A butcher will be able to get them, and Whole Foods in NYC also orders them so they might do that in DC, too.

Deanna-Nope, they're definitely not low calorie but that's why they're so good. And with bone marrow? That sounds amazing!

Lindie--In the midwest, you'd probably only see them at high-end French restaurants.

DH--Buttery is a good description!

Anon--Excellent! I'm glad y'all enjoyed them!

Grandma Kat @ Easy Recipes Land said...

These looks so good - I'm running out to get the ingredients right now and will make then for dinner for me and my husband.

Thank you for the recipe,

Grandma Kat

danica said...

You actually know the Rio Grande Valley exists!! I'm from there, but even going to a unversity in Texas never guaranteed that anyone knew the RGV was real. I think most people think Texas ends at Corpus. Anyway, I've never been one for mollejas but if someone could send me Barbacoa (I'm now in Oregon)that would be awesome. :)

Anonymous said...

Fermin's in Calallen, Texas serves mollejas. They are not on the menu. You have to ask for them. They are GREAT with refried beans in a flour tortilla.

David said...

That's funny because the first time I had sweet bread was when I was in Chicago and I was like "Ooo...dessert!" and my friend gave me the look of "do you even know what they are....they're cow glands man..." so you're right...sweet breads the better word, lol. Never thought of putting them in a taco tho, will try that next!

Babunita said...

Hello! Here in Spain also eat sweetbreads. On one hand the veal sweetbreads that are often taken stewed. The baby lamb so tender that when grilled taken only after a good soak in ice water.

To take a veal sweetbreads Castilla style you follow all the steps you take up after cooking in water and desprenderles its membrane, grab a pan and heat it with 100 ml of extra virgin olive oil, add a clove of garlic cut into brunoise and several cayenne peppers, to taste, sauté it a tablespoon of flour in the oil, almost enough to make roux add your sweetbreads in this sauce and pour over them half a bottle of wine, dry sherry, cook five minutes and sprinkle finely chopped parsley. Serve with good bread white of Castile.

My mom will not let me try them because it says that garlic and cayenne diet is not appropriate for Cockers like me, but I get bits that emerge in the process of cleaning the membranes, and they seem delicious!

Tina said...

My family (from South of Houston) has a much different way of making wash the sweetbreads, then put them in little foil pouches that you can close up. Add Allegro marinade, Tony's, and squeeze lime and then drop the lime quarters in the pouches. Close the pouches up and grill until the sweetbreads boil for about 30 minutes in the Allegro. You then remove them from the pouches and set them directly on the grill to crisp on the outside. Remove from the grill, slice, and serve on tortillas....they are heavenly!

wuwu said...

My mom would cook these as a delicacy for the 2 of us, as I was the only one that would eat them with her. It seemed like a big deal to her and she was always so happy as she prepared them. She was Spanish and French so am assuming her preparation was based on those cooking philosophies. They were amAzing and I developed a connection with the delicious flavor, delicate texture, my moms amazing talent for cooking and us, she and I were always a pair. This article brought up so many good memories.

Lil'Cholo said...

I'm a Hispanic from Texas and I have tried mollejas numerous ways but the best I've ever tasted were some we ate at a place called "La Pampa" in McAllen. Although they had the right idea, as someone else has mentioned, the texture if not fully cooked is somewhat unpleasing. I tried to imitate theirs and came up with the perfect and almost the easiest of ways to cook mollejas. I simply rinse them, then stick them in a pot with water, add some salt and whatever seasoning you like such as Season-All, etc... After boiling them for about an hour, let them cool and slice (crosswise) into 3/8 inch thick pieces. Put a little oil into a pan, fry each side for a couple should be able to see them crisp up as they will get some nice reddish browncolor to them at this point. Place on a plate covered with a paper towel, immediately season with flaked salt crystals or kosher salt if you don't want to buy that expensive salt flakes and some crystalized lemon powder (Tru Lemon). Guarantee you won't want them any other way after that.

Unknown said...

I personally like to grill them whole, till they firm hip a little. Then I slice them into fajita sized pieces. Finish with a home made bbq sauce. When the sauce thickens on the meat they are ready. Serve on warm corn tortillas with Pico de Gallo, and a squeeze of lime. Don't forget the cold beer. Usually cook along with tripas.

Anonymous said...

Mollejas go back to my childhood, we ate them all the time and still do. My favorite preparation is to wash them thoroughly, put them in a roasting pan, add salt and pepper, cover and roast at 350°F for one hour. Take out of the oven and uncover to let them cool to room temperature. Then I slice them lengthwise and toss them on a mesquite fueled grill to crisp them up and give them a nice browned color. Cut into bite sized pieces when done and make a taco with either corn or flour tortillas, aguacate, dices white onion and cilantro. Then add your favorite salsa.

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