General Tso sweetbreads

These sweetbreads have a spicy kick and make the perfect appetizer for ringing in the Year of the Dragon on Monday.

Served this winter by Niagara Street Café's Nick Liu at Toronto's What's On The Table fundraiser, they're crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. If sweetbreads aren't your thing, you can make the recipe with boneless chicken or shelled shrimp, too.

Servings: 4




  • 1 pound (500 grams) veal sweetbreads
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, sliced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, sliced
  • 2-inch stick cinnamon
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cup cornstarch for coating
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • Master stock
  • ¼ cup Chinese cooking wine or sherry
  • ¼ cup oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Finishing sauce

  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup master stock (see above)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoons ginger, minced
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon red chili, deseeded and chopped


  • 1 red chili, seeded and sliced
  • ¼ cup coriander sprigs


Place sweetbreads in a bowl and soak in cold water overnight. (If substituting chicken or shrimp, skip the master stock. Instead, add ½ cup chicken stock to the finishing sauce, then follow directions below for frying.) Mix stock, wine, vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaf, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and star anise in a pot and bring to a boil.

Remove sweetbreads from water and transfer them into the flavoured stock.

Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until they firm up slightly. Remove from heat and let cool in cooking liquid for 1 hour. Remove sweetbreads and, with a small, sharp knife, carefully peel off and discard the membrane. Break or cut up sweetbreads into 2-inch nuggets and reserve.

Place cooking liquid back on heat and add all the master-stock ingredients.

Bring to a boil for 2 to 3 minutes or until flavours are combined. Strain master stock. (Leftover stock can be used for cooking chicken, pork or fish for another dish.) Combine brown sugar with 2 teaspoons of water in a skillet and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until sugar has liquefied and begun to caramelize. Carefully add ½ cup master stock and cook, stirring, until fully absorbed. Stir in fish sauce, white wine vinegar, ginger, garlic and chili. Simmer for 2 minutes or until sauce coats the back of a spoon.

Season the sweetbread nuggets with salt and pepper and coat with cornstarch. Heat 3 inches of oil in a wok or deep pot.

Fry nuggets until crisp and golden (about 3 to 5 minutes). Drain on paper towel.

Place sweetbreads in a bowl and coat with sauce.

Garnish with chili and coriander sprigs. Serve as an appetizer.