I don’t think food should be controversial. It should be one of life’s great pleasures. To quote none other than Luciano Pavarotti “One of the nicest things about life is that we regularly have to stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating”. That being said, we come to today’s post. Here is a recipe I used to celebrate Andrew’s recent birthday. At its center were two luxurious veal chops. I say luxurious because I’d be hard-pressed to find anything at the butcher that is more expensive on a pound for pound basis than a veal chop. But I have to admit; there are few types of meat I enjoy more. That brings us to our controversy. I’d like to nip it at the bud. There’s good news about Veal!
The most successful animal rights campaign began over 25 years ago. No, it was not about foie gras. It was about veal or more specifically the way veal was raised. People were shown photographs of veal calves tethered in crates. Sales of veal immediately plummeted and have never recovered. Where Americans once consumed an average of 4 lbs. of veal a year in the 50s and 60s, consumption now runs about ½ lb. a person. You will be pleased to know that Veal Farmers finally got the message.
Veal crates have been banned completely in nine states and virtually every major veal producer in the country is in those states. Farmers have returned to the old method of raising veal calves. They are put out to pasture with their mothers and grain fed. Other producers still keep them in barns but they are free to roam with other calves. If they are ‘milk-fed’, it is with a milk replacement formula and grain has also been added to their diet as well. These changes have made a difference not just in how the animals are treated, but also in their taste and texture as well.
Veal, once the blandest of meats, now has real character and flavor. The grass and the grains combined with the milk substitute have produced a whole change in their taste. One writer compared the taste of today’s humanely raised veal to biting into an heirloom tomato after a lifetime of eating supermarket tomatoes. I hope I have assuaged any anxiety you have about veal. But I will immediately let you in on a secret. Bruce Aidells’ the creator of this dish has an author’s note in the margins of the recipe stating that the veal may be substituted for grilled steaks or thick pork chops. So there!
Bruce Aidells is famous for meat cookery. He is also famous for having brought Chicken Sausage to market in 1983. His Bruce Aidells’ brand comes in no less than 18 flavors! When he is not making sausage, he is writing about meat. In 2012, he brought out an updated version of his classic “Complete Meat Cookbook” in the form of “The Great Meat Cookbook” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). This is a 632-page bible that covers everything from sausage making to curing meats to recipes for every imaginable cut of everything from Elk to Goat. This recipe for Veal Chops brings together flavors that were meant for each other. He writes ”Certain flavors have an affinity for each other: tomato and blue cheese, basil and tomato, blue cheese butter and grilled meat.” I can attest to that. In our house, blue cheese is not one of Andrew’s favorite things. So while you can make this dish with a full-flavored Blue like Roquefort, you can also choose milder cheese. I went for Carrabolla, because some time ago, it passed muster in another dish so I hoped it would here too. In reality shallots, two kinds of pepper, tomato paste and butter, accompany the blue cheese here. The end result is magnificent but hardly overwhelming blue chees-y. The tomato salad is a lovely accompaniment. I served some simply prepare asparagus with it. Here are the recipes:
Recipe for Pan-Grilled Veal Chops with Tomato-Blue Cheese Butter and Cherry Tomato Salad from Bruce Aidells
Serves 4. (I made the entire recipe because the Butter keeps for a good long time and is excellent on steak or pork chops.)
For the Butter:
3 ½ ounces Blue Cheese
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted Butter, softened
1 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp. Tomato paste
1 tsp. Aleppo Pepper ot ½ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
½ tsp. Vodka (optional)
For the Veal:
4 1 ¼ to 1 ½ in. thick veal rib or T-bone Loin Chops (2 to 2 ½ lbs. total)
1 Large Garlic Clove, cut in half
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
For the Cherry Tomato Salad:
1 Cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1 tbsp. Finely chopped Shallots
1 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tsp. Sherry Vinegar
6 fresh Basil Leaves, in a chiffonade (cut cross-wise into thin shreds
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
First make the butter.
1. Remove any rind, then pulse the blue cheese in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until it has the texture of coarse meal. Add the remaining ingredients and process to form a homogenous paste. Spread a 12 by 8 inch piece of plastic wrap on a work surface and scrape the butter onto the plastic wrap.
2. Shape and roll the mixture into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Seal the butter in the wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour or until ready to use. ( you can make the butter a day a head and refrigerate it. Or you can freeze the butter and use it for up to two months.)
3. Rub the chops on both sides with the cut sides of the garlic. Discard the garlic. Season the chops with about ¼ tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper per side. Set aside.
4. Not more than 30 minutes before you are ready to cook the veal chops, make the tomato salad. Toss the tomatoes, shallot, oil, vinegar and basil together in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. (I used Opal Basil for color.)
5. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Brush the chops with the olive oil and add them to the pan, making sure not to overcrowd the chops. If necessary, cook them in two batches. Sear for 2-3 minutes or until the are nicely browned on the first side. Flip the chops over and sear the other side for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 3 minutes more per side or until an instant read thermometer registers 125 to 130 degrees for medium rare, 130 to 135 degrees for medium. Remove the chops to a warm platter and top each with a ¼ inch thick slice of Tomato-Blue Cheese butter. Let rest 5 minutes , loosely covered with aluminum foil.
6. Smear the now mostly melted butter over the chops, divide the tomato salad among the plates and serve.