Mollejas tacos sweetbread tacos DSC4488
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Mollejas tacos (sweetbread tacos)

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 tacos (sweetbread tacos) | Homesick Texan

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 tacos (sweetbread tacos) | Homesick Texan

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.

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5 from 2 votes

Sweetbread tacos (mollejas tacos)

Servings 4
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

  • 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, for serving
  • Sour cream, for serving

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

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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31 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. My family (from South of Houston) has a much different way of making Mollejas…..you 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!

  3. 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.

  4. Lil'Cholo says:

    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 minutes….you 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.

  5. 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.