Hauntingly Tender

I don’t eat (much) veal. That hauntingly tender texture has a way of reminding me that what I’m eating was a baby animal—one who wasn’t allowed to move much throughout it’s too-short life so that I could have a tender dinner. But, like all guilty pleasures, I make exceptions. I love to have veal once or twice in the spring, when the meat is at it’s best and veal is in season (yes, veal has a season.)

Veal doesn’t have much taste because low movement in an animal’s life makes for tender flesh with little flavor, while older animals produce tougher, more flavorful meat—another reason I feel bad for eating veal, like come, on, all that just so the flesh is firm but soft, smooth, and yields to the bite, creamy not chewy. Well, actually, yes all that. What’s life without guilty pleasures?

To compensate for the loss in taste, you must make bold accompaniments for the veal. For last weekend’s veal, Jim and I made a relish of grape tomatoes, shallots, balsamic vinegar, and capers—very bold indeed. The veal and the relish sat atop a bed of arugula—what I consider the perfect veal green, as it’s bitterness pairs sublimely with the creamy veal—and alongside some soft polenta.

Truth be told, I didn’t even need the polenta. The veal, relish, and arugula was a meal in itself, though the polenta made good work of soaking up the flavors. The relish, as it should be, is very bold, and I wouldn’t really enjoy it with anything other than veal, or possibly, a filet mignon. Make sure you get a great balsamic vinegar, because I imagine that could make or break everything.

I don’t think I’ll be eating veal too often now, but it was delicious.

Veal Chops with Roasted Shallot-Relish, Arugula, and Soft Polenta

from Bon Apetite, Feb 05//serves 4

1 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
4 1 3/4-inch-thick veal rib chops (each about 12 ounces), frenched

18 small shallots, peeled, halved
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 12-ounce package grape tomatoes
1/3 cup drained capers plus 1 tablespoon caper brine reserved from jar

Soft Polenta
4 cups arugula
Whisk 3/4 cup oil and lemon juice in small bowl to blend. Mix thyme, salt, and pepper in another small bowl. Rub thyme mixture all over veal chops; place in glass baking dish. Pour oil-lemon marinade over; let stand 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine shallots, vinegar, and remaining 1/4 cup oil in medium roasting pan; toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until shallots are browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes to shallots and roast until tomatoes are soft and browned, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes longer. Remove pan from oven. Add capers and 1 tablespoon reserved brine and stir to blend.

Meanwhile, heat large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Drain veal chops and transfer marinade to heavy small saucepan. Add veal to skillet and cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer skillet to oven and roast veal to desired doneness, about 10 minutes for medium.

Bring reserved oil-lemon marinade to boil; boil 2 minutes. Place 1 veal chop on each of 4 plates. Divide shallot-tomato mixture among plates. Spoon Soft Polenta alongside. Drizzle with oil-lemon marinade. Garnish with arugula and serve.

Soft Polenta

6 cups water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups quick-cooking polenta (precooked maize meal)
Bring 6 cups water, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in heavy large saucepan. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir constantly until polenta thickens, about 5 minutes.