Sweetbreads are one of the most versatile of organ meats. They're tender, moist and rich, but probably not very good for you if you suffer from high cholesterol. The flavour is quite neutral, so they should be served with an assertive sauce.

Pan-fried sweetbreads with mushrooms and polenta (pictured)

It's easiest if you start preparing the sweetbreads the day before you want to serve them because they need to be soaked in water for several hours to leech out the blood. The next day, the sweetbreads are simmered, drained, then refrigerated under weights, which compresses them slightly so the texture is less spongy.

With polenta, I ignore the cooking instructions on the pack, which tells you to simmer the grain for about an hour, stirring constantly. It tastes much better if you cook polenta for about three hours (or even longer). Fortunately, though, you don't need to stir it the entire time; just put the pot over a low flame, cover it with the lid and whisk it about every 15 minutes.

500 grams veal sweetbreads, thawed, if frozen

50ml fresh lemon juice

3 large shallots

300 grams small button mushrooms

80 grams plain (all-purpose) flour

60ml madeira wine

Cooking oil, as needed

30 grams butter

Fine sea salt, rough-flaked sea salt (such as Maldon) and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh herbs, to garnish

For the polenta:

125 grams polenta (don't use the instant kind)

60 grams unsalted butter

50 grams mascarpone cheese

15 grams freshly grated parmesan cheese

Rinse the sweetbreads with cold water then drain. Put them in a bowl, cover with cold water then refrigerate for at least eight hours, changing the water several times. Drain the sweetbreads then put them in a pan with the lemon juice and 1.2 litres of water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the sweetbreads, rinse with cold water then drain again. Put them in a bowl, cover with ice water and leave to soak until thoroughly chilled (this makes them firmer, so they don't fall apart in the next step). Pull off and discard the veins, lumps of fat and thick, tough membranes that cover the sweetbreads. Don't remove the very thin membranes or the sweetbreads will fall apart. Put the sweetbreads on a tray lined with two layers of paper towels, cover with more paper towels then place a slightly smaller tray directly on top. Put weights (such as canned foods) on the top tray so the sweetbreads are firmly compressed but not squashed flat, then refrigerate for several hours.

Start cooking the polenta about three hours before dinner. Put the polenta into a medium-sized saucepan, add half a teaspoon of salt and whisk in 750ml of boiling water. Place the pan over a medium flame and bring to the boil. Turn the flame as low as possible, cover the pan with the lid and cook for about three hours. Whisk the polenta about every 15 minutes, stirring it well to get out the lumps and to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. If the polenta gets too thick, whisk in more boiling water. The polenta will bubble slowly and spit, so take care not to get burned. Cook until the sweetbreads are ready, then whisk in the butter, mascarpone cheese and parmesan cheese, and add more salt, if needed.

Finish preparing the sweetbreads. Thinly slice the shallots. Mix the flour with five grams of fine sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Take the sweetbreads from the fridge and blot up any remaining moisture with paper towels. Slice the large and medium-sized pieces of sweetbreads about 1.5cm thick (the smaller pieces can be cooked whole).

Pour oil to the depth of about 2mm in a skillet and heat over a medium flame. Dredge the pieces of sweetbread in the seasoned flour mixture and shake off the excess. Pan-fry the sweetbreads until crisp and medium-brown on both sides (about eight minutes in total). Add more oil if the pan is dry and adjust the heat as needed so the sweetbreads don't cook too quickly. Remove the sweetbreads from the skillet and place on a serving plate.

Put the butter in the skillet used to cook the sweetbreads (no need to wash it) and set it over a medium flame. Add the shallot, sprinkle with salt and cook until soft, stirring often. Turn the heat to high and add the mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt, then cook until the mushrooms start to brown. Add the madeira and simmer over a high flame until the sauce lightly coats the mushrooms. Stir in some pepper then taste the sauce for seasoning, adding salt, if needed. Spoon the ingredients over and around the sweetbreads, then sprinkle with rough-flaked salt. Serve with the polenta and garnish with herbs.

Deep-fried sweetbreads with parsley, walnut and anchovy pesto

500 grams veal sweetbreads, thawed, if frozen

50ml lemon juice

80 grams plain (all-purpose) flour

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cooking oil, as needed

For the pesto:

80 grams Italian parsley leaves

1 small garlic clove

30 grams walnut pieces

3-4 anchovies in olive oil, drained

About 15ml fresh lemon juice

About 60ml extra-virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt

Rinse, soak and boil the sweetbreads, then put them under weights in the fridge, as in the first recipe.

Make the pesto. Put the parsley leaves, garlic clove, walnut pieces and anchovies in a food processor (or use an immersion blender). Process until the parsley is finely chopped, but not a purée. Mix in the lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil, adding more, if needed, so it's a spoonable sauce consistency. Season to taste with salt.

Slice the large and medium-sized pieces of sweetbreads about 1.5cm thick (the smaller pieces can be cooked whole). Mix the flour with five grams of salt and some black pepper. Pour oil to the depth of about 2cm in a skillet and heat over a medium flame to 180 degrees Celsius.

Dredge the sweetbread pieces in flour then fry them until golden brown, turning them over as needed. Drain the pieces on paper towels then serve with the pesto.

Styling: Nellie Ming Lee

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