Oddly enough though, this aristocrat of the meat world is also an excellent candidate for humble, rough-hewn stews. Veal's affinity for this proletarian role derives from its defining characteristic, its youth. However it is raised and whatever its diet, what makes a calf become veal instead of beef is the fact that it is slaughtered before the age of 20 weeks.
Because veal calves do not live long enough to develop any appreciable amount of intramuscular fat, their meat is quite lean. This is generally not a great quality for stew, because fat helps keep meat moist and flavorful during long cooking. But veal also contains a high proportion of collagen, or connective tissue. Harold McGee, the author of the classic "On Food and Cooking" (Collier Books), writes that a pound of veal has about twice as much collagen as a pound of meat from even a year-old calf.
Collagen can make meat very tough. But when the meat is cooked slowly with liquid, the collagen melts into tender, slightly viscous gelatin. This transformation takes place far more quickly and easily in meat from young animals. And because veal contains so much collagen, as the meat stews the resulting gelatin transforms the cooking liquid into a sauce, imparting a luxuriously suave, silken texture.
Fortunately for the home cook, veal stew meat is available in supermarkets much more readily than more expensive cuts like scaloppine or loin chops. Usually, it is sold already cut into cubes and labeled for stew. It's always a bargain: As with pork or beef, pre-packaged veal stew meat can come from any part of the animal; it simply depends on where the butcher has decent-size chunks left over after forming the larger cuts. But because veal is so tender, the cut is not as crucial as it is with tougher meats.
Almost any cut is likely to be sufficiently tender, but meat from the shoulder is ideal. The meat should be cut into relatively large cubes, at least an inch in diameter, which gives the meat prominence in the stew, making the dish seem more lavish.
We also like to take advantage of veal's lightness, both in color and flavor, to make stews that are not as heavy as most. Give the cubes just a golden brown coat during the initial searing to concentrate the flavor. Any darker and you run the risk of toughening the meat.
Veal stews are often served in springtime, but heartier ingredients like beans and greens make them suitable for cold weather as well. The meat's mild flavor seems to match up best with classic Mediterranean accents like tomatoes. And because it is so rich, it is best paired with something rather sharp or acidic. Lemon is the classic accompaniment, but other types of citrus as well as green olives, sherry or even slightly bitter greens also enhance this meat.
WHITE VEAL STEW WITH MUSHROOMS, CORN AND SHERRY
Time: About 2 hours
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds veal stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly cracked white or black pepper
1/2 cup flour, approximately
2 onions, peeled and diced small
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and quartered
1 cup dry sherry
1 cup corn kernels
2 cups veal or chicken stock
3 tablespoons fresh thyme.
1. Place 1 tablespoon each of the butter and the oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat, and heat until the butter has just melted. Dry the veal cubes with paper towels. Sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour, shaking off any excess. Add half the veal to the pot in a single layer and brown lightly on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes, removing the pieces to a platter as they are done. Add the remaining butter and oil to the pot, let the butter melt and brown the remaining veal. Transfer to a platter.
2. About 2 tablespoons of fat should remain in the pot; add more if needed or pour off any excess. Add the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are transparent, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring frequently, 5 minutes more. Add the sherry and continue to cook 2 more minutes, stirring to dissolve any brown, crusty bits adhering to the pan.
3. Return the veal to the pot, add the corn and the stock, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and skim any film off the surface. Cover and simmer gently until the veal is fork tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
4. Skim any film off the surface of the stew. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the fresh thyme, and serve hot.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
VEAL, SAUSAGE AND LIMA BEAN STEW WITH LEMONY GREENS
Time: About 2 hours, or 3 hours plus overnight soaking if using dried beans
1 pound dried lima beans (or substitute frozen)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound veal stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1 pound Italian sausage links, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 large onions, peeled and diced small
4 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup veal or chicken stock
1 cup canned whole tomatoes with juice, diced small
2 cups dry white wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens or young kale, trimmed, washed well and dried
1 lemon, halved.
1. Soak dried beans overnight in cold water. Drain and place in a saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Simmer, partially covered, over medium heat for 1 hour. Drain and set aside. (If using frozen beans, thaw according to package directions.)
2. In a deep Dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat until very hot but not smoking. Dry veal with paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Add veal and sausage to the pot in a single layer, cooking in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pan, and brown lightly on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes total, removing pieces to a platter as they are done.
3. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from pan. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until transparent, 7 to 9 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Return meat to pan and add drained beans, stock, tomatoes and white wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and skim any film off surface. Cover and simmer gently until meat and beans are tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
4. When stew is very close to done, cook greens: In very large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add remaining garlic and cook, stirring, for 10 seconds. Add greens and saute, stirring very vigorously, until wilted, about 1 minute more. Remove from heat, squeeze both lemon halves over greens and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Spoon a generous serving of stew into each bowl, top with equal portions of greens and serve hot.
Yield: 6 servings.
These recipes have not been been kitchen tested yet.
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Copyright © 1999-2008 S.H. Klock/ The Recipe
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