Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eating Veal is NOT Eating Babies

Reading my last entry, a review of Mio Babbo's, I realize that I may not have as many veal fans among my cohorts as I might believe. Though I do not think I can bring over the moral objectors with words alone, it would take a delicate veal chop to do that, I want to lay the groundwork for their first foray into the tender meat of calves.

All meats bear their characteristic flavors due to the lifestyle and genetics of the animal. When we say meat, we generally refer to the skeletal muscle tissue of terrestrial animals. This muscle is made up of water mostly, protein, and fat. Though different muscles have slightly different muscle fibers, muscles themselves taste relatively similar. The difference in flavor between different animals comes primarily from the fat. Since fat cells store any fat-soluble material that comes through the body, an animal's diet heavily influences the flavor of its fat. In cows, the forage plants create the distinctive beef flavor. Also, the older an animal gets, the more pronounced the flavors and the tougher the meat. Therefore, these calves are slaughtered at 5 to 16 weeks while their flesh is still tender and delicate in flavor. In comparison, beef in the U.S. is typically slaughtered at 15 to 24 months. Consider, if the cows are raised for slaughter anyway, why prolong their suffering?

In the United States, veal production is tied directly to the dairy industry. Dairy cows must give birth yearly to maintain a steady supply of milk. The female calves are nursed till maturity to produce milk also. Male dairy calves on the other hand, were previously routinely killed because they were unsuitable to be raised as meat. The rise of the veal industry has given these calves a new avenue for life, albeit short and ultimately doomed.

Veal calves are kept away from an ordinary cow's life as much as possible to prevent the development of common beef flavors. They're confined to exercise that will not darken or toughen their muscles and fed a low-iron milk supplement diet. Although in the past there have been claims of poor raising conditions for veal, these outrages have forced industry changes for more humane environments. Nowadays, most veal are raised in well-ventilated, climate-controlled barns with enough room to stand, lie, and move around.

The flavor of veal has been described as subtle, buttery, aromatic and more. In my personal experience, I find the delicate flavor of veal as a counterpoint to a hearty Angus beef. What I appreciate in veal is similar to how I appreciate good sushi, the texture and the marbling. Granted, veal is more expensive than beef, chicken and pork, but the price should not stand in the way of a new flavor experience. So look past your own prejudice and give this humble meat a try. As any decent foodie, you owe it to yourself to indulge a little. Try a veal piccata at your next Italian restaurant or try the simple recipe I have provided below.

all purpose flour
veal chops
dry white wine
chicken stock
garlic , chopped
lemon juice
capers, drained
unsalted butter
  1. Wrap the veal individually in plastic wrap and pound to as thin as you can without tearing.
  2. Salt each chop and dredge in flour.
  3. Heat a shallow pan and add a layer of frying oil (vegetable, corn, canola, peanut, NOT olive).
  4. When a drop of water sizzles immediately upon contact with the oil, add the veal. Do not crowd the pan. Work in batches if necessary. Flip the chops when lightly browned on the contact side. It should be only a few minutes per side.
  5. After all chops have been cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Then bring up the heat and reduce the wine. Add chicken stock, garlic, lemon juice, and capers to taste.
  6. Work in a pat of butter to thicken the sauce until it is nape (when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). Add the veal back to the pan to warm. Plate and serve.
Goes great on a bed of pasta.

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