A tasty, sustainable meat that’s long overdue a comeback
Horse meat in beef burgers; dolphins caught as tuna bycatch; battery farmed chickens—we’re no strangers to food controversies in this country. But perhaps the UK’s most infamous expose of recent decades came in the 1980s, when protestors brought into sharp focus the inhumane practices then widespread in the production of veal. Its popularity, accordingly, waned.
But with standards of welfare having improved immeasurably in the intervening years—not to mention the wealth of uses for this lean meat—it is now well worth considering veal again as a sustainable choice. Nowadays, the majority of British veal—known as rose veal, after the colour of its flesh—is a world away from the anaemic-looking, cruelly bred meat of the past.
“Like with any meat, if you know its provenance you can be sure you are buying veal that has been bred to very stringent welfare standards,” says Nadia, co-owner of Gourmet Goat, which has recently started serving this meat as part of its lunchtime offering. “The rose colour is an indicator of a healthy, iron-rich diet,” she explains. “We get all of our veal from British dairy farms. Everything is certified.”
Bright, lean and delicious
As with all meat, this not only means the calves live happy lives, but it makes for higher quality, tastier meat. “It’s bright, lean and delicious. It’s probably closer in flavour to beef than it is to kid, but I am reluctant to compare it to anything. You just have to try it”—and, happily, you can do so by heading to Wild Beef, which rears pedigree Welsh Black and native cow herds in Devon.
“In the past, male calves—which are essentially surplus to the dairy trade—were simply shot at birth,” owner Lizzie Vines explains. “But we rear them outside. They’re free to roam the pasture and in winter we feed them on hay, until they are slaughtered at a minimum of six months.”
When it comes to veal recipes, the natural place to look, of course, is the Mediterranean. Italy has a fantastic source of recipes to draw from: flattened and coated in breadcrumbs for veal escalopes; pan fried and served in a sweet wine sauce for veal marsala; veal steaks wrapped in Parma ham; and perhaps most famously, ossobuco—a traditional Milanese dish consisting of shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth. Try giving Lesley Holdship’s recipe for osso buco Milanese with gremolata a go, if you fancy making it at home.
Looking slightly further east to Greece, “a traditional dish is veal on the bone cooked in the oven with tomatoes, cinnamon and onions, with potatoes,” says Nadia. In Cyprus, from whence Nadia hails, it is common to combine veal mince with other meats. “It’s usually used alongside a slightly fattier meat like pork, for example. It varies region to region—and it depends on the cut as well.”
Much like other meat, different cuts serve different purposes. “If you do have a particularly lean cut you can of course braise it, which is what we do on the stall with diced meat and carlin peas,” Nadia continues. One of Nadia’s favourite cuts, though, is the rump steak. “Just cook it as you would any steak. It’s fantastic.”