14 Jul 11 UK: Veal has had an ethical and culinary makeover
Veal dishes endeared Italian restaurants to our hearts – but in an instant, the zeitgeist changed and it was no longer politically correct to eat veal. The succulence of calves’ meat, so delicate by comparison with beef and such a fine foil for complementary flavours, was discredited by horrible and cruel practices, but things have changed and veal is back on the menu in Britain.
Shooting bull calves at birth for lack of a market is as disturbing a scenario as exporting them in crates to be raised in darkness, packed too closely to move freely. Happily, a way forward has been found over the past five years as farmers, supermarkets and chefs have worked together ethically to raise veal that is tender, delicate and flavourful, even though it’s pink these days rather than white.
“I source rose veal from the Lake District, where a band of farmers are supporting each other to raise calves humanely,” says Stuart Gillies, who gets through 50 kilos a week at the Savoy Grill, where he is chef director.
“We’ve got paillards which eat like butter when served medium-rare with an anchovy-caper sauce, or with morels and cream. Calves’ liver and sweetbreads are classics, but because I’m passionate about using the whole animal, I’ve created an all-veal mixed grill. It’ll have a slice of rump or fillet, liver, kidney and sweetbread, and a sausage made from what’s left on the carcass when every possible cut has been taken.”
Using the whole beast is also the aim of the Galvin brothers, who are lucky enough to have a brother-in-law who sends them a carcass from his organic dairy farm in Fletching, East Sussex, every so often. “It’s gone in a day and a half,” says Chris. “We fricassée the chuck and shoulder, make tête de veau for our bistro with the head, and poach and crisp up sweetbreads to serve with morels at La Chapelle. At Windows we’ll serve an assiette, combining loin of veal with sweetbreads and a bit of tongue.”
Galvin is one of relatively few chefs who has not felt obliged to take veal off his menu, supplementing family-produced veal with that from Limoges, which he considers the finest in the world. “It’s made from herds bred specifically for their meat, and I’ve visited the area to satisfy myself the calves are reared in the best possible conditions,” he says. “They’re suckled twice daily by their mothers and given plenty of room to walk around. They reward us with dreamy meat which is a wonderful canvas for herbs, butter, cream and mushrooms. The price is sky-high, but the lesson we should take is to eat less and make what we do eat the highest quality.”
Foodies are taking this fact on board in supermarkets, which have gone back to veal production in a big way. Claire Hodgson, food developer at Marks &Spencer, says the chain can’t get enough veal fillet to satisfy demand in 200 stores, even though it sells for an eye-watering £35.99 per kilo.
“After that it’s escalopes, plain or breaded – it fits into the retro comfort-food category, like prawn cocktail – and calves’ liver, with or without sage butter,” she reports. There are also thick chops on the bone among up to 4 000 packs of veal sold by M&S every week, though not yet any osso buco. Lucky shoppers will find osso buco, along with more expensive cuts, on the meat counter at 25 branches of Sainsbury’s, which two years ago pioneered the mass production of ethical British veal in conjunction with dairy farmers.
Veal sales are up by 300 per cent this year at M&S, and a more modest 22 per cent at Waitrose; both chains have made their dairy farmers sign pledges not to shoot or export their bull calves…..