It's such a beautiful word, "sweetbreads", so much better than "stomach" or "throat", and it was first popularised - by Hannibal Lecter - more than 20 years ago, yet the dish still hasn't caught fire in Aucklanders' collective dining imaginations.
Ben Bayly, of The Grove and Baduzzi, doesn't care about our collective dining imaginations. In manyways he is our collective dining imagination. Explaining the relative rarity of sweetbreads in restaurants here, he said, "They're two small bits of organ that come out of a big hunk of guts."
A 10-minute time limit brings a lot of pressure and Bayly knew the dish he was making would take him to the limit. He had already asked me if it was okay to go a little bit over and, when I said no, he asked if it was okay to peel carrots in advance.
After Bayly had been cooking for five minutes, his wife Cara asked me if the 10-minute time limit included plating. I knew what she was trying to do - limit the likelihood of her man's failure so she wouldn't have to deal with the emotional fallout (so much of my wife's life is spent the same way) but still, asking was cheating.
While Bayly cooked, two of his three children, both preschoolers, hung around his kitchen, playing games and eating many of the peas that were supposed to be for me. I have two children of similar age. Playing on my fatherly instincts was cheating.
Cara had baked some sourdough and made butter from raw milk, and those two things would later prove high points of the meal. With a minute or so left on the clock, she surreptitiously cut and plated the bread, which was cheating.
When I first arrived, there were already several bowls with prepped ingredients on the kitchen counter - cheating - and there was a bottle of Sicilian red, from which Bayly poured me a glass almost immediately. That was not cheating but it was very thoughtful.
For what it's worth, all five meals were ready in 9 minutes, 40 seconds. The sweetbreads were springy in texture and mild in flavour. There wasn't enough for all of us, so Bayly had bulked it out with some premium beef. He had thermo-mixed some green stuff into a sort of fresh salsa, and he served it with asparagus and the few peas that had survived the rampaging appetites of his children. I took a wedge of Cara's sourdough, spread it with her homemade dark yellow butter and washed the whole fantastic spread down with the bottled arrogance of the Sicilian red.
Over lunch, Bayly mostly spruiked his new multimillion-dollar project in Henderson, which is going to be some kind of family fun place, but with good food. I sat at the head of the table, flanked by Bayly and his family. I was going to ask what everybody thought of the meal, but I couldn't get a word in.
Ben Bayly's scores (out of five):
Instances of cheating: 5
Endlessness of spruiking: 5
Number of missing peas: 5
Booze bonus (Y/N): Y
Bits of organ from hunk of guts bonus (Y/N): Y
Recipe: Warm salad of sweetbreads with spring vegetables, crushed peas and yogurt
Serves 4-5 people
300g venison, lamb or veal sweetbreads
50ml olive oil
300g beef eye fillet, scotch fillet or sirloin
100g freshly shucked peas
50g unsweetened natural yoghurt
5 mint leaves
15 asparagus (I like mine peeled) chopped into 3rds
1 lemon, zest and juice
30g diced butter
Salt and pepper
Apple cider vinegar - big glug
Small radishes, sliced
The day before wash the sweetbreads in cold running water for 1 hour, then leave in the fridge overnight. Sweetbreads can be bloody when they come from the butcher, so washing will remove the blood and they will become clean and white.
For the dish:
Season and flour the sweetbreads, place in a hot pan with olive oil. Caramelise on one side.
Dice your beef into 2cm cubes and season with salt and pepper. In a super-hot pan with a touch of olive oil sauté the beef for 30-60 seconds, you want the beef rare. Place in the large salad bowl, juices and all.
Bring a pot of water to the boil, add a pinch of salt then add the peas, peel the 1/2 cucumber in to the hot water with the peas. Cook everything for no more than 2 minutes. While the peas are cooking, dice the rest of the cucumber and place in the bowl with the beef. While you are there, chop the radishes and put them in too, add the apple cider vinegar.
Drain the peas and the cucumber skins, pulse in a blender with the yogurt, a pinch more salt, some olive oil and mint leaves, place a nice spoon of crushed peas on the plate.
Now your sweetbreads are golden brown on one side, turn them over, add few knobs of butter and caramelise.
Once you have achieved a nice colour on the other side of the sweetbreads, and add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute, add the parsley lemon zest and lemon juice.
Add a pinch of salt if needed, then place the sweetbreads and asparagus on the plates evenly, over the crushed peas.
Mix the beef/cucumber/radishes and garnish this dish.