Veal

Veal

By
Adrian Richardson
Contains
10 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740668064
Photographer
Dean Cambray

I grew up in a very Italian household, which means that we ate a lot of veal. My Nonna Yole was a brilliant cook and the whole family would descend upon her for our favourite Saturday night meals of veal cotelette, involtini or osso buco. I realise now that this was quite unusual. Veal has never been as popular or as widely available in Australia as it is in Europe – and it has always been expensive – so I was very lucky to have been introduced to it from such a young age.

Things are changing, though, and you’ll find dishes like veal shanks popping up on more and more bistro and restaurant menus. Certain cuts of veal are brilliantly suited for this sort of slow-cooked dish because they have a very high collagen content that breaks down to a beautiful sticky richness. This gelatinous quality is why restaurant kitchens love to use veal bones when making stocks. They not only add a delicate flavour, but lots of body and sheen.

And who among us doesn’t love the famous Austrian Wiener schnitzel, made from wafer-thin slices of veal, coated in crumbs and fried to juicy crispness? Veal offal is also much prized – think of delicately pink and tender slices of liver, or creamy, rich sweetbreads. These are always a sell-out when we feature them on the menu at La Luna Bistro.

On the downside, veal can be hard to find and does have a reputation for being pricey. There is also a lot of confusion about what veal exactly is, and what makes for good quality veal. And on top of these things, there is widespread resistance to eating veal because of the industry’s reputation for questionable production practices and an apparent reluctance to eat such young animals. But if you are concerned about this latter aspect, then you’d better become vegetarian. The fact is that veal calves are slaughtered at a similar age to lambs and pigs.

There are, however, more understandable grounds for concern when it comes to animal welfare and veal. To understand the controversy, we first need to understand that veal is a by-product of the dairy industry. If we humans want to drink milk, then we have to accept that it goes hand in hand with thousands of baby calves being removed from their mothers. Without a veal industry, most of these calves would be slaughtered within hours of their birth.

Most ethical objections to veal actually centre on certain methods of its production: in particular, the traditional Dutch method of raising the baby calves in confinement in crates or small pens. These sorry animals are confined to such a degree that they are unable to turn around (the objective being to prevent them moving and developing muscle, which would make their meat less tender). And their diet is restricted entirely to milk formula, which causes them terrible digestive problems, to keep the meat pale and tender.

Let me say straight away that I find this an appalling and unnecessary level of cruelty. But thankfully, this crate system of production has been banned in most countries and there is a growing insistence on more humanely reared veal. The Australian veal industry is certainly kinder. Once weaned from their mothers, our veal calves are reared in large open barns with unrestricted access to milk and to a cereal-based diet. Although it is essentially an indoor environment, the barns are open at either end to natural light. Organic veal calves have greater access to the outside world, and are even encouraged to nibble on grass.

The veal meat from calves raised in both these ways is, of course, somewhat pinker than the ‘true’ milk-fed veal. But surely it is an acceptable trade-off? In fact most Italians – who after all eat more veal than anyone else in the world – have always preferred their veal to be pinker and fuller-flavoured than ‘white’ veal.

There is one other category of veal in Australia, known as ‘bobby’ veal. ‘Bob’ calves are male calves sold off by dairy farmers who have neither the expertise or interest in raising veal for meat. They range in age from four days to two weeks, and are sold straight away for meat. The fact that this meat is so young doesn’t mean that it is better than veal raised especially for the premium meat market. In fact because it is so young bobby veal tends to be rather bland and tasteless and has a dry, chewy texture.

Veal and nutrition

Australians eat very little veal, especially when compared with our European cousins, such as the French and the Italians. It’s a shame because, nutritionally speaking, veal is fantastic. It is a naturally lean meat because the animals are slaughtered before much fat or marbling has developed. But it is nutrient-dense, with a paltry 200 g supplying us a significant percentage of our daily requirements for protein, zinc, niacin, magnesium and vitamin B12.

How and where to buy veal

Although its availability is increasing, veal is still something of a seasonal item and the best times to find it are in winter or spring. It is definitely something of a gourmet item and you are almost certainly going to have to go to a specialist or Continental butcher to find it. Or ask your own butcher if he can source good-quality veal for you.

As I outlined above, age and diet both affect the appearance and quality of veal: the whiter the meat, the greater the proportion of milk it will have been fed. Sometimes veal with a pinkish hue is marketed as rosé veal or organic veal. Any veal that looks rather reddish is almost certainly not veal at all, but will be from yearling beef.

Veal is categorised according to the weight and age of the calf. In Australia, some of the best veal is considered to come from French breeds of cattle, such as the Charolais. This veal will be from animals that have been slaughtered between three and four months of age, and they will weigh between 75–90 kg.

As with all meat, you should choose veal that looks moist, but not slimy or sticky.

Storing veal

Because it has virtually no fat, veal is more perishable than other red meats; treat it like chicken or pork.

You won’t find ‘aged’ or ‘hung’ veal, so it will be very fresh when you buy it.

Unwrap and refrigerate all veal immediately.

Store it in a Tupperware container, or sit it on a rack on a plate and cover it with a tea towel.

Large cuts of veal will keep for up to four or five days.

Smaller cuts should be used within three days.

For most cuts, if you rub them with a bit of olive oil, or even cover them in a marinade they will keep a bit longer as it delays the oxidisation process.

Cubed or minced veal should be used within two days.

Which cut to buy

Veal are clearly much younger animals than their older brothers and sisters, which means that they break down to a more limited range of smaller cuts. In fact veal cuts are probably more similar to cuts of lamb than beef.

The tender prime cuts make up a small part of the animal and are expensive. So it makes sense to make good use of the secondary cuts, such as the breast, neck and shoulder. These cuts really shine when they are cooked long and slow in braises and casseroles.

A: Shanks and shin

These are best cut from the hindquarter as they tend to be meatier and less stringy than the forequarter equivalent. Veal shanks are great for braising as they cook down to wonderfully sticky and tender meat. Cut across the bone into thick slices the shank and shin are used for the classic Italian dish, osso buco. Each piece contains a cross-section of the bone, with an interior of juicy marrow.

B: Silverside, topside, knuckle and girello

Cut from the thigh of the calf these can be roasted on the bone or divided into the various muscles for slow-roasting and pot-roasting. The whole silverside is used for the classic dish vitello tonnato. The topside is often rolled up and tied for roasting. Knuckle is a smaller round muscle, great for a mini pot-roast or small schnitzels. The girello is tiny in very young veal, but in older animals it can be used for vitello tonnato or braised in butter and tomato passata for slicing and serving with pasta.

The thigh can be opened out and cut on the bias into thin slices – also called escalopes or scaloppine – for schnitzels and for saltimbocca. Try to avoid slices that are cut straight across the boned-out leg. You’ll end up with several awkward-sized bits held together by connective tissue, which won’t cook evenly in the pan. Ask your butcher to cut slices from a single large muscle.

C: Rump

This is also known as the round of veal, and it can be roasted whole on the bone, or sliced across the grain into slices, as with the leg muscles.

D: Loin

Many of the prime cuts come from the loin, although they are very small. The loin can be left whole on the bone or cut into chops (the equivalent of porterhouse or T-bone steaks). Some upmarket butchers will trim up the loin on the bone to create a frenched veal rack, which can also be cut into individual chops. Off the bone the loin is divided into the tenderloin and the backstrap – the eye or fillet of veal. These both make tender medallions and steaks, when cut into slices.

E: Flank and breast

From the belly of the calf there is little meat to be had on the flank. The breast is also known as brisket and needs long, slow cooking, to melt it to juicy tenderness. It is traditionally boned out and stuff ed, for roasting or poaching. Breast meat is sometimes ready-diced as ‘pie veal’, and it makes brilliant casseroles, pie fillings and terrines.

F: Forequarter

This yields the other prime roasting joint of veal, the shoulder. Shoulder chops are ideal for grilling, while the whole shoulder is often boned out, stuffed and rolled. Bone-in shoulder makes a wonderful pot-roast. Diced shoulder and diced brisket are the classic cuts for making blanquette de veau – a rich, creamy veal casserole.

G: Feet

Calves’ feet yield copious amounts of gelatine, and are often added to a braise or a stew to give it body and sheen.

Things to remember when cooking veal

Because veal is such a lean meat, you do need to take care to keep it moist – especially the tender-and-top-dollar cuts, such as scaloppine and chops. These will benefit immeasurable from being marinated in olive oil with lots of fresh herbs. And with these small cuts, always err on the side of undercooking, rather than run the risk of it drying out. They should be lovely and pink in the middle, and not cooked through to dry chalky whiteness.

Large lean cuts, such as the silverside, round or leg also need to be kept moist. You can either baste them with lots of butter and wine, wrap them in caul fat or even drape the surface of the meat with bacon rashers. Larger secondary cuts tend to be fattier and have more connective tissue, so are less likely to dry out. But as with all braised dishes, make sure that they cook very gently, for maximum juiciness.

How do you know when it’s cooked?

Because veal are young animals, their muscle fibres and connective tissue are not as developed, as in older beef cattle. This means the meat can sometimes be a little chewy. For this reason I like to cook veal a little more than beef. Again, my preferred way of testing for doneness is to measure the internal core temperature using a digital instant-read thermometer.

Roasted leg, chops and racks of veal should be cooked to around 55ºC. At this temperature the meat will still be pink and juicy, but the slightly longer cooking will help to break down the connective tissue, and the meat will be more tender.

Things that love veal

Anchovies, breadcrumbs, butter, capers, cream, garlic, lemon, marjoram, mushrooms, olive oil, olives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, salt, shallots, thyme, tomatoes, white pepper, white wine.

Recipes in this Chapter

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