Touchy vealy

Traditional veal blanquette with braised rice

Get touchy about veal because it’s an ethical no-no? A few years ago I did. It hasn’t been straightforward to obtain veal in the UK following decades of campaigning by animal-rights groups to get it off the menu. Young calves were confined to small dark spaces with restricted movement and fed a liquid diet. The meat was pale and mild because they weren’t able to use their muscles. That’s all changed now.

Though standards still vary between countries, British farmers have created a product that stands apart. It’s called rose veal and it’s a by-product of the dairy industry. For dairy cows to produce milk, they must be pregnant. This means all dairy cows give birth once a year. Female calves go on to produce milk themselves, but many male calves are still condemned as waste product. They don't produce milk and they’re rarely used for beef due to their low muscle tone.

Currently in the UK, only 50% male calves are used for veal. The rest are either shot at birth or exported. In welfare terms, veal calves are now housed in light, airy barns, given deep straw bedding for comfort. They eat double the fibrous food consumed by continental veal calves, which is obviously better for their digestive systems and helps their muscle development. Living longer than the average chicken or lamb, they are slaughtered between 8 and 12 months, look fully grown and possibly weigh in excess of 400kg. Given these changes, both the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming are trying to redeem veal in the eyes of consumers.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, if we don’t eat more rose veal the chance of life for male calves will go down. Without a market, there’s no commercial value for male calves and this presents a real ethical and financial problem for dairy farmers. If we enjoy milk, cheese and ice-cream, and the veal is produced responsibly, don’t we have a duty to eat the meat and ensure fewer male dairy calves are wasted? Moreover, veal is actually healthier eating with lower saturated fat than beef. Just make sure you buy RSPCA-Assured veal for the best welfare standards.

Here endeth the lecture.

Back to class.

Today we turned a shoulder of veal into Blanquette de Veau a l’Ancienne et Riz Pilaf. Think chicken and mushroom pie filling, except veal and not chicken—obviously. It’s a white stew. Rich, creamy, and delicious when you get the seasoning right. Of course, the dish being French, the sauce is made by thickening the meat cooking liquor with a liaison of egg yolk and double cream. 

It was served with rice, which was also cooked with butter. WTF. Basically, shallots sweated IN BUTTER. The rice grains were cooked IN THE BUTTER until translucent then stock was added with a bouquet garni. Cartouche on top, lid, and into the oven until the water was absorbed. Out of the oven and a 5-minute steam. Finish with parsley and MORE BUTTER.

You could say it’s both comforting and decadent nom.

Cooking was all a bit fast-and-furious with a very busy oven hob. 1 pan for the meat. 3 small pans glazing the vegetables. 2 pans for the roux, infused milk and velouté sauce through its different stages. 1 pan for the rice. At one point I left an empty pan on the heat with my spatula in it. When I noticed the pan’s bottom was black and let’s say my spatula is now modelling new curves. Oops.

BTW, do you have induction at home? A hob ring should be able to heat more than one pan if they fit over the induction coil. Very useful when using small pans.

The other dish chef prepared in the demo was another classic. Paupiette de Veau, avec Carottes Vichy et Pomme Duchesse. That’s veal escalopes stuffed with minced veal, minced pork and pork fat, mushroom duxelles, parsley, plus bread and milk made into a paste. Served with fancy carrots and fancy spud. Actually the Pommes Duchesse was wicked. Baked potato, riced. butter and egg yolk folded in until creamy. Piped for visual effect then under the Salamander or into the oven to gratinate. I particularly loved the little noisette version—like potato sweeties.

Ball-shaped braised veal parcel with Vichy carrots and potato duchesse

Carved log-shaped veal parcel