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Taste of Europe: Alex Jackson’s lamb sweetbreads

Sweetbreads are the most unchallenging of offals, with a lovely delicate flavour. They are usually available all year round but are at their best at this time of year

Alex Jackson's lamb sweetbreads

Noble Rot Soho was a restaurant opening that really, properly excited me. The original on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury has long been a place to be seen. By its own admission, since its launch in 2013, it has witnessed chefs Pierre Koffmann, Fergus Henderson and Yotam Ottolenghi rubbing shoulders with Keira Knightley, Caitlin Moran, Brian Eno and Francis Ford Coppola… “blurring the boundaries between gastronomy and the creative arts”. Noble Rot in Soho promised the same classy food but a gentler vibe.

I visited the newer of the two not long after it opened in September 2020. Alex Jackson, formerly head chef at the brilliant but now closed Sardine, has been in charge ever since, delivering an unfussy, French-inspired menu, almost all of which works well with the wine of lockdown one, Chin Chin. The chicken with morels and vin jaune is a standout and something all who traipse Soho’s hallowed pathways should devour.

Alternatively, the set lunch menu is extremely accessible and I’ll point it out here because we are all feeling the pinch. Two courses might be smoked mackerel paté with remoulade and toast, then beef onglet with roast potatoes and bearnaise, and together cost just £18. These are Corbin & King
prices, arguably executed with even greater flair. And given C&K is now off-limits to many restaurant fans on account of the Minor Hotels takeover, where else might food of such class be available for so little?

Anyway, Jackson is there beavering away, serving good food in a dining room that was once the famous Gay Hussar pub, once home to MPs and the like. But if you’re staying in this weekend, a dish of Jackson’s you might like to cook at home is his lamb sweetbreads with broad beans and morels (yes, here are the fancy mushrooms again – they are in season).

The dish appears in his cookbook, Provençal, which covers southern French food. In it, Jackson says: “Sweetbreads are the most unchallenging of offals, with a lovely delicate flavour. They are usually available all year round but are at their best at this time of year. As such I love to cook them with fresh broad beans, and this makes for a lovely spring lunch.

“Fresh morels are elusive and expensive, but are completely delicious. St George’s mushrooms, also in season in spring, have a slightly milder flavour and work as well. Feel free to substitute any fungi you feel like, including soaked dried ceps. I think good chicken stock is necessary here as it really helps to tie everything together.”

LAMB SWEETBREADS

FOR 4

Lamb sweetbreads, 250g
4 small handfuls podded fresh broad beans
Fresh morels, St. George’s mushrooms, or any other delicious mushroom, 150g
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chicken stock
Half a glass of dry white wine
A sprig of thyme
1 tbsp chopped parsley
50g Butter
A squeeze of lemon
4 slices of hot buttered toast

Wash the sweetbreads well and soak for half an hour in cold water. Put them in a pot with a few peppercorns, the sprig of thyme and a couple of the stalks from the parsley. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and take off the heat. The sweetbreads should have a little spring to them but still be quite soft.

Whilst still warm, painstakingly peel the membranes from the sweetbreads and set aside.

If the beans are on the larger side, peel off the outer skin. Blanch the broad beans for a minute in boiling salted water, and set aside.

Clean the mushrooms and half them if they are large.

Season the sweetbreads with salt. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. When it starts to smoke, add the sweetbreads and colour them on both sides until a nice golden brown. Lower the heat to medium and throw in the mushrooms. Stir around until they begin to soften. Lower the heat still further, add the broad beans, then the white wine. When the wine has reduced slightly, add the chicken stock.

Simmer all together gently until the liquid begins to thicken. Add the butter and swirl the pan to make an emulsified sauce. Taste for salt, and finish with a small squeeze of lemon, a grind of pepper and the chopped parsley. Serve on the hot buttered toast.

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