Sweetbreads - Mollejas Tacos

In many cuisines around the world, sweetbreads are considered somewhat of a delicacy or gourmet food. We call them “Mollejas” in Spanish, and in Mexico, we like to cook them grilled, fried, in tacos, or in stews. This sweetbreads recipe is for making some delicious street-style sweetbread tacos.

It’s not very easy to find a taqueria that sells sweetbread tacos in Mexico. You’ll have to go to a restaurant that specializes in grilled meats, sort of like a steakhouse. Sweetbreads can also be made at home; the most popular way of cooking them is on a charcoal grill or pan-fried. Before we get into this sweetbreads recipe, though, let’s talk a little bit about the characteristics of sweetbreads.

What are sweetbreads?

Sweetbreads are a type of offal (organ meats), just like liver, tripe, or heart. Offal includes a wide variety of organs, but some consider sweetbreads the “caviar” of them all.

The name can throw some people off since there is no actual part of a cow’s body that is called “the sweetbread”. “Sweetbreads” is actually just a culinary term used to refer to some of the glands in the cow’s body, mostly the thymus gland and the pancreas. These are specifically known as “throat sweetbread” and “heart sweetbread”, respectively, and are what you will most likely get if you go to your grocery store and buy a package labeled “sweetbreads”. Beef sweetbreads and veal sweetbreads are the easiest to find, but lamb and pork sweetbreads are also sold in some places.

What do sweetbreads taste like?

A lot of offal meats (liver, kidneys, etc.) share a distinctive taste, one that’s strong and gamey. Of these, sweetbread is regarded as one of the mellowest in flavor. The taste is smoother and creamier than that of liver. This makes it a great type of meat for beginners that haven’t tasted other organ meats. If you’ve tried intestines before (we call them “tripitas” in Mexico, and like to make them in tacos), then sweetbreads will taste very familiar to you.

How do you cook sweetbreads?

The cooking time for sweetbreads will depend on the method you are using to prepare them. For stews, some cooks like to boil them in water or milk for about 1 hour, before chopping them into pieces and adding them to the stew.

If you want to grill or pan-fry the sweetbreads, you will need to cook them for about 15 minutes per side on medium-low heat. If the sweetbreads are too thick, remove them from the heat once they are partially cooked and have a solid consistency (and have shrunk a little), and cut them lengthwise. Put them back on the frying pan or grill and turn the heat to high (or add more charcoal); brown the sweetbreads on both sides.

Prior to grilling, cooks will sometimes soak the sweetbreads in water, salt water, milk, or even vinegar. They do this soften the texture of the sweetbreads.

Where can you buy sweetbreads?

You can buy sweetbreads at your local supermarket; look for the RUMBA® Meats packages in the meat section. Their cuts of meats are sold in a convenient vacuum-sealed package, and pretty soon they will also offer their products for sale online.

Directions

Place the sweetbreads in a bowl and cover them with fresh water. Let them rest for 5 minutes and then drain.

Precook the sweetbreads in a saucepan or pot (I used my large skillet) with water, the ¼ onion, garlic cloves, and bay leaf over medium heat (use enough water to cover the sweetbreads). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the skin of the sweetbreads looks firm and it has changed color from pink to a pale beige.

Remove from the saucepan and reserve some of the cooking liquid. Allow the sweetbread to cool enough for you to handle it and remove the outer membrane.

If some of the pieces of the sweetbreads are too thick, cut them in half by slicing them lengthwise**, then proceed to chop them into small bite-size pieces.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or comal; we are going to slightly brown the sweetbreads and also warm the tortillas in the same skillet. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped sweetbreads and stir-fry them until the outer skin is golden (you have to stir them frequently). Add more salt if needed.

In the same skillet, warm the tortillas, adding a couple of tablespoons of the cooking broth on them. This will soften the tortillas and also infuse some flavor into them (just like it’s done in many taquerias). Do not leave the tortillas on the skillet for longer than is needed to warm them, because if you leave them there for too long, they can start to break (your experience will vary depending on the type and brand of tortilla you use).

To serve, divide the meat among the tortillas, then top them with the chopped onion and cilantro and your favorite salsa. Serve with some lime wedges, for those that like to add a few drops of lime to their tacos. If using the small taqueria-style tortillas, use 2 tortillas per taco. Provecho!

Recipe

Sweetbreads - Mollejas Tacos

Servings:
Author: Mely Martinez - Mexico in My Kitchen

INGREDIENTS

For Sweetbreads

  • 2 lbs Rumba® Beef Sweetbreads
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tablespoons of oil

For serving

  • 8 corn tortillas*
  • ½ cup white onion chopped
  • ½ cup cilantro chopped
  • Your salsa of choice
  • 4 lime wedges

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place the sweetbreads in a bowl and cover them with fresh water. Let them rest for 5 minutes and then drain.
  2. Precook the sweetbreads in a saucepan or pot (I used my large skillet) with water, the ¼ onion, garlic cloves, and bay leaf over medium heat (use enough water to cover the sweetbreads). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the skin of the sweetbreads looks firm and it has changed color from pink to a pale beige.
  3. Remove from the saucepan and reserve some of the cooking liquid. Allow the sweetbread to cool enough for you to handle it and remove the outer membrane.
  4. If some of the pieces of the sweetbreads are too thick, cut them in half by slicing them lengthwise**, then proceed to chop them into small bite-size pieces.
  5. Heat the oil in a large skillet or comal; we are going to slightly brown the sweetbreads and also warm the tortillas in the same skillet. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped sweetbreads and stir-fry them until the outer skin is golden (you have to stir them frequently). Add more salt if needed.
  6. In the same skillet, warm the tortillas, adding a couple of tablespoons of the cooking broth on them. This will soften the tortillas and also infuse some flavor into them (just like it’s done in many taquerias). Do not leave the tortillas on the skillet for longer than is needed to warm them, because if you leave them there for too long, they can start to break (your experience will vary depending on the type and brand of tortilla you use).
  7. To serve, divide the meat among the tortillas, then top them with the chopped onion and cilantro and your favorite salsa. Serve with some lime wedges, for those that like to add a few drops of lime to their tacos. If using the small taqueria-style tortillas, use 2 tortillas per taco.

RECIPE NOTES

* Use 8 medium-size corn tortillas or 16 small taco-style tortillas ** When pan searing the sweetbreads (or cooking them on a charcoal grill), some cooks like to cut them lengthwise like a steak, so that they have an even thickness for cooking.