Ris de Veau

In English, Ris de Veau translates to sweetbread—but this hearty dish is neither sweet, nor bread. So what exactly is this inaptly named French delicacy made of? It’s a meaty treat that you have to dive inward to enjoy? Let’s find out.

Savory and Sumptuous

Ris de veau is made with the thymus gland (throat) and pancreas (stomach region) of calf and lamb. These treats fall into the category of “offal” which simply refers to organs and other cuts of meat that don’t fit into one of the standard cuts. Because thymus glands tend to disappear from animals’ anatomy at around 6 months, much ris de veau is veal. This dish can be prepared in many ways, making it a favorite in French kitchens for its versatility, mild flavor, and luxurious texture. 

Eating Economically

In days of old when most Europeans butchered their own animals, it was wasteful to let the offal go to waste. Thus, ris de veau gained popularity simply out of necessity. It is unclear why a name that translates to sweetbread was chosen, but the title dates all the way back to the 16th century, and may refer to the fact that the thymus gland is sweeter than some other cuts of meat. Now, ris de veau is a favorite among French culinary professionals, as it is an excellent addition to almost any dish as a supporting flavor. If you happen to be in Paris and get the urge to try ris de veau for yourself, visit La Causerie or 24 Le Restaurant.

A Utility Player

There are virtually limitless ways to prepare ris de veau, which is likely why it has maintained popularity for so long. Fried, grilled, roasted, poached, braised, or sauteed, ris de veau will come out tasting delicious every time. This means that chefs can serve ris de veau as an appetizer, in stews, as part of a terrine, or in practically any other way. The true beauty of this dish is certainly its versatility.  

Preparing Ris de Veau

Ris de Veau

Regardless of how you prepare them, these sweetbreads must be soaked in cold water before cooking. This practice removes any blood prior to blanching, which gives ris de veau a firmer texture. Once this is finished, you will need to remove any gristle or tubes. 

In French recipes like this one, ris de veau is generally served in a rich sauce. Though the sauce preparation will vary by recipe, this is a fairly standard method for cooking ris de veau:

Dredge the prepared sweetbreads in flour before placing them in a warm frying pan.

  • Allow the sweetbreads to color on one side over medium heat. 
  • Add butter and shallot (in this case) and turn them over. 
  • Once the sweetbreads are almost cooked through, you can add your sauce to the pan, then you’re ready to serve over a starch, like mashed potatoes in this recipe. 

Favorite Flavors of Ris de Veau

Oftentimes, you’ll see sweetbreads as supporting players in dishes. However, if you want to prepare a dish in the French fashion in which sweetbread is the star, you will want to select some sort of starch and rich sauce to accompany it. Some such popular sauces are:

  • Brown sauce
  • Madeira sauce
  • Truffle sauce

Potatoes are always an excellent base, but you can opt for other root vegetables, too. 

The name may be puzzling, but the long-loved reputation of ris de veau will be anything but confusing once you sample its flavor.