Back in the “old days” of the 20th century, veal in its many forms was a popular dish at my restaurant.
In order to get the high-quality “nature veal,” you had to order a whole hind leg, weighing about 30 pounds. I would remove the outer skin, then follow the seams to remove the top round, bottom round and sirloin tip. These were the best muscles for cutlets.
The smaller muscles and trimmings would be cut into pieces for stew or ground veal. The shank would be trimmed and sawed into thick rounds for osso buco. Finally, the bones (perhaps the most valuable part) would be cut up for making brown stock. Not many chefs go through this routine today because all of these parts are available, ready to use, in the quantity that you want.
The source of veal, its feeding and production are often misunderstood. Rather than being a part of beef cattle production, veal is really a by-product of the dairy industry. The newborn female calves on a dairy farm are brought up to become milk-producing cows.
While a small percentage of the males become breeders, most are fattened to become veal. They are sent to market at about 20 weeks of age and the highest quality veal is fed on milk products to create a tender, pink-colored meat. There has been much criticism about the treatment of calves, mostly cruel confinement in crates, but this seems to be changing as the public becomes more aware.
Finally, for a chef, veal provides a very attractive cooking medium. Its lean, delicate nature becomes a great base for herbs, spices and sauces, and the small portions required for most recipes provide a healthy alternative to big portions of red meat. Here are some classic veal recipes:
White Veal Stew
(blanquette de veau)
Purchase 1 1/2 pounds of veal stew meat. You will also need 18 pearl onions, 1 small bunch of carrots with the tops on, 1 celery root, 2 turnips, 12 white mushrooms, 1 leek, fresh thyme, celery and parsley.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a soup pot and place the pearl onions in the water to blanch. Bring them back to a boil and remove with a slotted spoon. Blanch the veal in the same water by bringing it back to a boil and simmering for 3 minutes. Remove the veal and discard the water.
Place the veal in a heavy casserole on the stove and add 2 cups chicken stock. Make a bouquet garni by tying together 1 sliced leek, 6 parsley stems, 1 small celery stalk, 3 sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf. Add this to the veal, cover and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 1 hour, or until veal is very tender.
While this is cooking, set another heavy pot on the stove and add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 cup chicken stock. Cut carrots, celery root and turnips into 2-inch pieces. Peel the blanched onions and add them to this pot along with the vegetable pieces and whole mushrooms. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper and 2 sprigs of thyme. Cover and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes.
When the veal is tender, discard the bouquet garni and remove the veal with a slotted spoon. Strain the liquid into a bowl and clean the casserole. Place it back on the stove and add 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour to make a roux. After 2 minutes, whisk in the reserved veal liquid and bring it to a boil. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and check for seasoning.
Add the veal back to the sauce along with the vegetables. Fold in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and serve with boiled new potatoes or rice.
Pound out 1 pound of veal cutlets between two pieces of plastic film and set aside.
Set up a breading station by placing 1 cup flour in a pie tin with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Break 1 egg in a shallow bowl and stir in 1/4 cup milk and measure out 2 cups panko crumbs in another pie tin. Dredge the veal in the flour, then in the egg wash and finally in the panko.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 1/4 cup canola oil. When hot, sauté the breaded veal. It will cook quickly, so keep the heat at medium and do not crowd the meat. When golden on each side, remove the cutlets to a sheet pan and hold in a warm oven.
Serve with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.
Pound out 1 pound of veal cutlets as above. Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Dredge the cutlets in seasoned flour and sauté quickly on each side and remove.
Lower the heat and add 1 package of sliced baby bella mushrooms. Add a little more oil if necessary. When cooked, remove the mushrooms and add to the veal. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and 1 tablespoon flour. Increase the heat and pour in 1/2 cup marsala wine and bring to a boil. Stir in 1/2 cup chicken stock and add back the veal and mushrooms.
Serve over linguine.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].