Monday, July 23, 2012


Here at the Langston House in Outer Greater Metropolitan Melville, Montana, I can look out my window and see just shy of three hundred calves and their almost three hundred mothers.  That's a lot of veal on the hoof.  They're still nursing, but grazing a bit too, so I'm not sure whether they qualify as milk-fed veal.  At this point they may be vitellone.  The scene is repeated hundreds of times to the north, south, east, and west of me.  Gigatons of goddam veal.

So you might think you could buy some in the supermarket.  I called and called and called.  One butcher said he could get some in a couple of weeks and would be glad to call me.  I had folks coming for dinner in three days, and I wanted to give them Pierre Franey and Craig Claiborne's Côtes de Veau Pavillon--one of Pierre's great dishes from the days when he was chef of America's greatest restaurant, Le Pavillon in New York.  In desperation I went to the one supermarket I hadn't called, in Bozeman--a hundred miles from Melville--and sho nuff if the young butcher didn't say, "Yeah, I think we've got some in the freezer."  Loin chops?  "I think so."

He never showed them to me, as a normal butcher would, but I was so grateful I just took them blind.  When I got them home and unwrapped them, aghButchered is precisely what they were: uneven of thickness, apparently hacked with a dull knife, and with a long stringy sort of tail hanging from them, consisting mainly of fat.

Now, browning veal is never that easy.  I didn't want to use flour because the dish calls for a slick vinegar glaze at the end and any sort of thickener would ruin that.  These damned little chops just wouldn't brown. And the whole point of the vinegar déglaçage was to pick up the yummy crunches of fond that the caramelization of meat ordinarily creates.  Meanwhile my dinner guests were talking to me constantly, and I just couldn't concentrate, so while I kept on trying and trying to brown the chops, I forgot entirely about the cherry clafouti that should have been in the oven at the same time.  Well, finally, after a longish simmer in stock and vinegar, a reduction of that down to a glaze, and a slip of butter to make it shine, I had some veal chops that really looked like hell.

I had started with an avocado soup, by the way, which was no masterpiece either.  For dessert we had to wait quite a while for our clafouti.  Luckily I had already pitted the cherries or it would have been midnight.  Well, and it was good.  It was downright delicious.

My guests were non-drinkers.  This particular evening I was perhaps exceptionally not.

A couple of weeks later, the other butcher called me.  Said he had some beautiful veal chops.  Which he did.  Which he cut properly.  Which browned just fine.  Which produced a just-right and abundant bunch of fond in the pan.  And which turned, in due course, into an excellent rendition of  Côtes de Veau Pavillon.

And where had that veal come from?  The butcher didn't know, but we agreed that it almost certainly didn't come from Montana.  The three hundred calves out my window are going to grow up into red meat.

The dish is worth doing.  It's best with pale, milk-fed veal, but pink vitellone will do.  It is actually possible, by the way, to get humanely raised milk-fed veal, but it may take a bit of a search even if you're in New York or San Francisco.  (I knew better than to ask about mine.)  It's easy, and it's extraordinarily yummy.  Here's how:

Sauté your veal chops in butter till they brown.  I don't think they'll ever get uniformly brown, but do what you can.  Toss in one clove of garlic per chop (whole), a couple of bay leaves, a bit of thyme--not too much--and enough chicken broth (or veal stock, even better) to come a quarter-inch up the chops.  Craig adds less than a teaspoon of vinegar per chop at this point, but I think more is better--say two teaspoons per.  Cover and simmer till tender--maybe twenty minutes.

Season the chops to taste and keep them warm while you boil down the liquid in the pan, meanwhile assiduously scraping up all the brown bits.  Get rid of the garlic, bay leaf, and thyme.  Continue reducing until you have perhaps a tablespoon and a half of liquid per person, and swirl in a little butter.  The sauce will be a rich dark mahogany in color, and almost syrupy.

A couple of tips.  Don't use balsamic vinegar, it will be too sweet and too sticky.  Do use really good vinegar.  Be sure to reduce the cooking liquid down to very little, to bring back the intensity of the vinegar aroma which otherwise would seem to have boiled away.  Oh, and back at the beginning: inspect your chops at the butcher's and be sure they're of even thickness and properly trimmed.

Mashed potatoes would be great with this dish.

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