Lamb Sweetbreads – Mollejas De Cordero

Grilled Lamb Sweetbreads (Mollejas De Cordero)

I’m not a big fan of offal. If you are familiar with Argentinean asado then you know that achuras(offal) are the prized favorites. Since I just stated that I’m not a fan, you are probably wondering why the heck I’m managing this site and waxing the methods of Argentinean barbecue. Well, I’ll eat it and cook it if I have to but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. First, let me just state I have not problem with knowing where these organs come from and what functions they perform to keep those tasty by-products that we know of as rack of lamb or tenderloin in check. The problem I have with most offal is that I, more often than not, hate the texture or taste–primarily the texture turns me off. Now, before you chastise me, I’ll admit that most offal I’ve sampled was probably never prepared properly to really bring out the best of flavors. Kidneys, as an example, top the list but perhaps if some expert French chef served them up with a delicate yet flavorful sauce I might change my mind, but until then I’m not a fan.

All of that was generally speaking, but there is one offal item that I enjoy dearly. Sweetbreads. I’m not a big fan of sauteed or braised sweetbreads but toss them on a barbecue grill until crispy and I’m in heaven. It’s like bacon’s long lost relative.

Fortunately, or let me say unfortunately, many people share that same love for sweetbreads as they do with bacon, particularly here in Argentina. The sad part is, sweetbreads, at times, can be downright impossible to find, even at restaurants. They, the restaurants, are usually the first ones to suck them all up. Whether it is to satisfy the hunger of tourists or locals, who knows. I can’t count how many times we would frequent our favorite parrilla restaurants with our mouths watering at seeing mollejas on the menu only to be turned down with the simple word of “no” in response to our question: “Do you have mollejas?”

To cook them at an asado is an even harder feat. You really have to dig around town to find a butcher or market that carries them. This is usually done by visiting various meat markets and asking “Do you have mollejas” until you find someone that says “yes” or “no, but maybe next week.” Next week isn’t guaranteed but at least you can mark a spot on the map that may offer them sometime in the future. With supermarkets, you end up playing the lottery, meaning just a few times out of the year they might have them but you better be there on those days. And who knows which days those are. Lamb sweetbreads are lot harder to come by than veal or young beef.

In areas where you have large estancias that raise sheep, such as Tierra Del Fuego, super fresh lamb sweetbreads(mollejas de cordero) are not too hard to come by during the summer months. That is, of course, after you know which places carry them and which day of the week the meat is delivered. When that happens, you better be there when they are unloading the truck or you might as well say goodbye to the excellent asado you had planned for the weekend. The cordero(lamb) and sweetbreads that I buy are usually from Estancia Maria Behety, which is about 15 km outside of town. (Some photos of the estancia can be viewed here)

Buying:

Sweetbreads should be purchased raw, either fresh or frozen. In some cases you might be able to find them precooked, but I’d recommend buying them raw. Unfrozen sweetbreads are very perishable and should be cooked within one day of purchase. If you can’t cook them within that time period just toss them in the freezer and they’ll be fine. Always be sure to ask the butcher when they received the sweetbreads as well as whether or not they were frozen beforehand. If they were previously frozen, and defrosted that day, use them within a day. Do not refreeze them. The flesh should have a nice creamy white or pinkish color.

Mollejas Raw

Preparing:

Like matambre and a few other meats, many cooks have their own methods of preparation. One method is to soak them in either milk or acidic water(water with a touch of lemon or vinegar) some hours before cooking–with fresh changes of such liquids throughout that time period. The purpose of this it to draw out any blood, toughen the fat and membranes for easy removal, and to provide a cleaner taste. Soaking or not, some will also blanch them in a liquid(such as milk, water, wine & water, etc) for a few minutes to toughen them up even further in order to make trimming easier. Then there are some who just toss the raw sweetbreads on the grill after a quick trimming. Those who follow that method say there is hardly any difference in taste and texture compared to doing any soaking or blanching beforehand.

Many times, lamb sweetbreads do not come all pretty and somewhat prepared where you only have the sweetbread part with a little fat and membrane. As you can tell in the photo I posted of raw sweetbreads, there is a substantial amount of fat and lamb meat. With sweetbreads that come like this, it is best to give them a quick blanch, in addition to soaking perhaps, to remove some of the fat and membrane tissue yet leave the lamb meat intact. The actual sweetbreads in the photo are quite small, about the size of a large thumb. Very difficult to grill at such a small size without the lamb meat to support it. Therefore, I ended up cooking them as is.

Now the last thing you have to decide on is whether or not to butterfly them. Meaning, to make a slice about half way through the thickest part in order to spread the sweetbreads out into a larger yet thinner piece. Not every piece needs to be butterflied, only those that might be much larger than the rest. This will allow everything to cook evenly at the same time and you’ll end up with a nice crispy texture overall. If you prefer a softer texture they just leave out the butterflying part.

Cooking:

Now for the easy part. Sweetbreads are quick to cook on the grill and quite hard to mess up unless you really over do it. However, it is hard to put a time on how long they will need to cook. This depends on what other meats you are cooking and how hot the grill is. They make a great starter meat along with chorizo so I usually go ahead and put them on the parrilla in the beginning. Make sure that the section on which they will be placed is clean and well oiled since they can stick very easily. Season them lightly with salt before placing on the grill and have a few halved lemons on hand to sprinkle on some juice while cooking. Flip them over when the sides facing the grill are golden and crispy. That’s when you want to squeeze on that lemon juice. Remove and serve when the other side is golden too.

Always have lemon wedges readily accessible at the table for your guests to squeeze upon these tasty treats. Once you try them, you’ll never go back to sautéed sweetbreads.

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12 Comment(s)

  1. Mollejas! Every time I’m in Buenos Aires I gorge myself on them, along with all the other great asado items. They are the best thing to come off the grill, specially with a little lemon and salt. Mmmm.

    I have to say I share your point of view on achuras. The only one I will eat willingly is mollejas, no chinchulines or riñones for me.

    Cesar from Argentina's Travel | Mar 16, 2007 | Reply

  2. Man! Those are some beauties.

    I’ve always loved “variety meats” as they are euphemistically termed in the old country… “achuras”, here. But I’d never eaten a molleja until I arrived in Argentina.

    I wasn’t too impressed to begin with… you can get a lot of so-so mollejas.

    But when they’re good… my god, you know what all the raving is about.

    The best beef ones I’ve found are at La Brigada
    http://yanquimike.blogspot.com/2006/10/parrilla.html
    Worth it to just pop in and have a lunch of mollejas and wine.

    Thanks for the post!

    yanqui mike | Mar 24, 2007 | Reply

  3. Hey Mike,

    I didn’t try them until I arrived here either. The beef ones are hard to find around here. I’ve seen them a few times at a supermarket but they were pre-cooked(boiled) and didn’t look that appetizing. There are a few other places I need to check tho. Haven’t tried Brigada but will mark that down. I remember Mirasol’s were good. (The one in Almagro) They slice them into thin medallions and grill till crispy.

    Asado Arg | Apr 4, 2007 | Reply

  4. hey – nice to find your site. just got back from dinner here in buenos aires, where i had mollejas for the first time (i wasnt quite sure what they were, but knew they were something special after the first bite).

    i will definitely be reading through your other posts and figuring out how to recreate some of the tastes ive experienced here when im back in germany. thanks. .

    brendan | Oct 19, 2007 | Reply

  5. Hey Brendan,

    Thanks and it’s great to read about another molleja convert!

    Asado Arg | Oct 19, 2007 | Reply

  6. Hey, I was looking for a different version of Chimichurri to try and came across this thread. mollejas rock. I have been enjoying beef mollejas for a long time here in Texas. I guess if white folk don’t step into the carnicerias (meat market) they will never know sweetbreads are available in States. They are cheap and most of the time you will find them already cleaned. You just have to make sure they are fresh. Salud! fellow mollejas lovers.

    Miguel | Dec 30, 2007 | Reply

  7. please please try Riñones al Jerez, a spanish kidneys recipe and then maybe you will change your mind about them.

    DAVINIA | Oct 1, 2009 | Reply

  8. Strange! Here in Puerto Rico every Argentinian restaurant (and there are plenty) serves Mollejas. Theyre SO good when grilled!

    carlos alfaro | Jun 17, 2010 | Reply

  9. Hey….Sweetbreads taste a little like chicken but have a velvety soft texture I love. Beef liver on the grill is awesome, if you do not over cook it. I don’t see the point of heart which is a bit like liver. Chicken livers on the grill are also nice.

    Variety meets? Awesome. The food of poverty, and so nice and homey.

    Cook quickly on the grill, and after taking it off, pour olive oil which you have pried a few cloves of garlic in over the meat, salt, and eat.

    Yummmmmm.

    Gary Knackstedt | Feb 16, 2011 | Reply

  10. Mollejas, carne para la parrilla, vino, futbol y lindas chicas.. El Gaucho Meat Market… Anaheim CA USA.

    Carlos T | Apr 18, 2011 | Reply

  11. I love sweetbreads, at least here in Argentina.

    Stephen Page | Oct 20, 2011 | Reply

  12. I love mollejas, here in miami grazianos is the best Argentenian rest.

    David | Jul 7, 2014 | Reply

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