Last Meal of 2012: Glands of Fortune

Rainbow chard.
I rolled over to look at my watch (eg, smartphone). 13:39. It was about 7 hours later than I'd slept in over a week - a string of "volunteer" holiday shifts to be covered, 7:30-19:30 at worst. It meant getting up at 6:30AM every day regardless of what sort of post-Christmas revelry had happened the night before (and I had a few nights up past my bedtime).

There was also a text: "Scott: Thinking about going on a ride this afternoon, did you get a new bike?"

Yes, yes I did, no thanks to the no good thief or thieves who absconded with my precious black Specialized Vienna Globe 57cm bicycle.

Replacing her is a silver Trek 51cm, leaner and meaner.

I met Scott an hour later in front of my house.

My front tire had succumbed to a slow leak.

We replaced the inner tube after checking the tire for debris (a glass shard was discovered sticking out of the tire), and Scott presciently described how the other day he too had a flat, replaced the inner tube only for it to go flat as well due to undiscovered debris in the tire.


Lentils and mirepoix.
Olivier's Butchery has been around for almost two years. This last year would seem to be their best so far. Scott had never seen the place so I figured it would be nice to ride out to the bay shore where the Dogpatch is nestled in between Potrero Hill and China Basin just south of AT&T ("Willie Mays") Park.

The store "front" is the re-purposed loading dock of a warehouse. Re-purposing warehouses has been part and parcel of the neighborhood for decades of course, and many old-school original "dotcom" offices remain, in their proto-industry form, as converted warehouses along Third Street from 16th all the way up to Army in San Francisco.

Newer occupants include a wine bar, a wine cellar, an ice cream parlor, design studios, pottery studios, antique shops and spas for your dog or cat.

Raw sweetbreads, mushrooms, mirepoix.
Olivier's converted loading dock, continuing inside, features a small cabinet of dry goods and condiments, usually heirloom dried beans and a variety of sauces from refined French mustard and spice blends and oils to Sriracha.

My eyes hover over the "yellow-eyed peas", a pale bean replacing yellow for black in the traditional News Years Day feast of pork, cabbage and black eyed peas. I grab a package, $6 for a one pound bag.

I select my pork: a skin-on top-shoulder cut off the animals foreleg. The sales person removes the whole leg as I tell her which third to cut, bone-in. I pick up some pigs feet which I will quick dry-cure in my refrigerator and braise slowly with the yellow eyed peas.

My gaze molests the display case, no other term can describe it. Farm chickens, squabs, onglets, entrecote, bavette, cote du boeuf, lamb shanks, perfectly "Frenched" racks of lamb, all of it looks wonderful, and then my gaze locks on: veal sweet breads.

Sous vide and trimmed of their membranes, the sweet breads are "pret a porter" as it were. While it would have been instructive to demonstrate the method of blanching, pressing, cleaning then re-cooking the thymus glands, the butcher has done most of the work already.

I had to have them, and I knew just how I was going to cook them.

Blanching station.


Cleaned and cut chard.
Of the many lessons learned this year, the most recent is never to invoke Chekhov's Spare Tire.

I made it down to 16th Street before noticing that my front tire was going flat.

"Dammit, I must have jinxed you," said Scott. Luckily I was prepared with a patch kit. We found the culprit, a previously undiscovered shard of glass, after a more thorough examination of my tire.

Patched up and on the road again, I made my way to Rainbow: how could I have sweetbreads without chanterelles?

Scott, pork chops in hand, split off to head home. I bought my mushrooms and some greens and rolled off to Dear Mom to finish my last bike ride of 2012.


Double smoked bacon.
I lost my sweetbread virginity at the Flying Fig in Ohio City. To say the least, I was skeptical, if not misinformed:

"Sweetbreads? I don't have that much of a sweet tooth and we have all this other starch coming," I said, out of sheer ignorance.

"No honey, sweetbreads are thymus or pancreas glands of young animals like lamb or veal."

"Oh, not sure you're really selling me on this, but I'll try anything once."

And I would, having just had uni for the first time a year earlier. This was the 1990s, and offal hadn't broken out and become a star player like it has the last decade. This was pre-Bourdain, pre-Ruhlman, pre-Chris Cosentino. This was Chef Karen Small and Jill Vedaa and my sometimes roommate Riki in one funky little forward thinking American-bistro in Cleveland.

It was the best thing I had ate all year: creamy, soft, savory, delicate, clean. Not at all flavors I had associated with organ meat (which might as well be equivalent to cat food in my mind prior to that night).

A switch had been flipped in my head, thanks to the sirens of the Flying Fig, and food was never quite the same after that.

So in this "the year of the hipster" I say to you that I dug organ meat before it was cool. Huzzah, and happy New Year!

Sweetbreads A'la Fig

Lentils with Mirepoix
  • 2 cups of French lentils, rinsed and checked for stones.
  • 1 large shallot, diced.
  • 1/4 cup of carrot, small dice.
  • 1/4 cup of celery, small dice.
  • Sprig of fresh thyme.
  • Sprig of fresh sage.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • Animal fat.
  • Water to cover.
  • 1/2 good beer to thin out after blending.
Over medium heat in a saucier sweat the shallots, carrots and celery in fat for a few minutes. Add the lentils and remaining ingredients, covering the lentils by about 1/3rd of an inch of water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 40 minutes at low heat.

Check if lentils are cooked and for seasoning. If done, hit a couple of times with a stick blender to smooth out some of the lentils while leaving most whole. Add a few splashes of beer, lid and keep warm in a 170ºF oven until time to serve.

Maple Bacon Rainbow Chard
  • 1 bunch of rainbow chard or Swiss chard, stem ends trimmed to remove any dry bits, washed and chopped into 2" pieces (stem and all).
  • 2-3 rashers of good, double-smoked bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces.
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped coarsely.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.
Fry the bacon until fairly crisp but not burnt. Reserve the fat for the sweetbreads.

Add garlic and greens to the bacon, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and let cook down for a minute.

When greens are wilted, add syrup. Cook down liquid until the liquid is "napé", or thick enough to hold a line drawn on the back of a spoon with your fingertip.

Remove from heat, cover and keep warm in an oven.

Sautée station.
Crispy Sweetbreads with Wild Mushrooms and Ponzu Monte au Beurre
  • 1 lbs of sweetbreads, blanched or poached in salty, acidic water (1 qt water, 1/4 cup vinegar, tablespoon Kosher salt) and drained.
  • Bench flour, about two or three tablespoons, seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • 1/4 lbs Chanterelle mushrooms, rinsed just prior to use and patted dry.
  • 1/4 lbs oyster mushrooms, rinsed just prior to use and patted dry.
  • Reserved bacon fat plus olive oil.
  • 1/4 cup of ponzu sauce (or 1 part soy to 1 part cider vinegar to 1 part lime juice plus 2 teaspoons brown sugar).
  • 1/3 cup of good beer.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon cold butter.
To blanch the sweetbreads, bring a quart of water to boil with a heavy dose of salt and some vinegar, jus tlike you would poach and egg. Poach in small batches for about 15-20 seconds each batch, allowing water to return to a boil between batches (about four batches per pound). Reserve sweetbreads in a bowl and drain off any excess liquid.

Dry fry your mushrooms in a large hot sautée pan until the edges become well browned and set aside.

Lightly flour the sweetbreads and fry in bacon fat and olive oil until almost crispy. Add mushrooms and mushroom liquid to reheat. Set all in a bowl and keep warm while you de-glaze the pan with ponzu sauce. Remove from heat when ponzu is reduced by half, add cold butter and whisk in to make a smooth emulsion. Add sweetbreads and mushrooms and juice back in and heat through.

On half of the plate, arrange an nice pile of lentils and top with sweetbreads, mushrooms and ponzu sauce. Arrange sautéed greens with maple and bacon on the other half of the plate.

Delicious (not exactly) brains.

Olivier's Butchery
1074 Illinois Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 558-9887

Rainbow Cooperative Grocery
1745 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-0620

The Flying Fig
2523 Market Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 241-4243


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