Veal gets a bad rap. We all can’t help but to equate any veal with industrial veal. We imagine cute black-and-white calves, chained in a box, their faces forlorn as they lonesomely moo for their mothers. Yeah. It’s a grim thought. For that reason, I’d never really consumed veal until this summer when a box of meat that included little else but veal arrived from our meat CSA. A note in the box and a subsequent email explained that this veal was different. This veal was raised by momma.
Indeed, the method of chaining and crating veal calves is a new practice, established in the years following World War II when the agricultural communities of the United States began their dramatic move from the small, intimate and self-sustaining farms they were to feed-lots and monocropping. Dairy farmers moved male offspring, who otherwise held little value, indoors to save space and costs in an era when young farmers were encouraged to “modernize.” Tradition, as is often the case, was lost under the effort to modernize the agriculture of America’s heartland. Prior to this change, veal calves were raised alongside their mothers in open pasture, under the sun and with access to clean air and fresh water before their brought to harvest at about the same time lambs are traditionally slaughtered. Thanks to the renaissance of truly traditional and sustainable farming practices – and, in a way, to the raw milk movement – humanely raised veal is increasing in availability.
Far from the milky white meat of calves fed on formula devoid of iron and raised in crates so small they can’t even turn around, the meat of pasture-raised veal is a rich magenta-like pink hue to the calves access to their natural diet of mother’s milk and fresh pasture grasses – resulting in an improved life prior to harvest for the calves and in improved nutrient density of their meat. Pasture-raised veal is sinfully tender and mild by comparison to beef, but dense in vitamins, minerals, conjugated linoleic acid and offers a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio than its formula-fed, crated alternative.
So, upon receiving that first box brimming with pasture-raised veal: cutlets, chops, ground veal, roasts, I prepared our first meal. The meat was tender and made flavorful by veal’s wholesome, healthy fats combined with fragrant, herbaceous rosemary. It was, in short, divine.
My son, aged four, gazed up at me from his first bite of pain-fried veal and said, “Mama, what is this wonderful meat?”
I glanced down at him. My memories of hearing the stories of crated veal still fresh in my mind and I hesitated, if only slightly before I simply said, “Well, honey, it’s veal and veal is a baby cow.” I braced myself for the flood of tears, remembering how, when I was four I’d asked my step-grandmother to purchase a can of veal-based food for her irrationally large number of cats and she responded with a half-hour long diatribe railing against the dismal condition of crate-raised veal calves. I cried for days at my audacity for suggesting she purchased something made with – gasp – baby cows!
Instead, my son was silent for a moment before he responded, “Can we try a baby pig next?”
- four to six ounce humanely raised veal cutlets
- sprouted grain flour, (for dredging)
- 2 tbsp pastured bacon fat or lard
- 2 branches fresh rosemary
- 4 shallots, (thinly sliced)
- 2 preserved Meyer lemons, (chopped coarsely)
- additional rosemary, (for garnish)
- Place veal cutlets between two pieces of waxed paper and pound with a wooden mallet to tenderize and flatten them.
- Dredge the veal cutlets in the sprouted grain flour, ensuring they’re well-covered and set them aside.
- Heat bacon fat or lard in a cast iron skillet over a medium flame until it’s melted and sizzling.
- Add rosemary and fry until the fat is fragrant and vibrant with the herb’s fresh scent.
- Remove the rosemary from the skillet and discard it.
- Add the thinly sliced shallots to the rosemary-scented fat and fry until well-caramelized, brown and fragrant, about three minutes.
- Add the veal cutlets to the skillet on fry on each side for approximately two to three minutes.
- Plate with caramelized shallots and garnish with chopped preserved Meyer lemons and additional rosemary.