Steve Legato
Qui Qui Musarra's milk-fed breast of veal (vitello al latte).
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A Revealing Revival

Jim Poris / April 2012

Every sort of off-cut is springing from butcher block to plate these days. Except the humble veal breast, once so much more prevalent. Three chefs set the record straight.

Stuffed, either bone-in or not. In the hands of most cooks, that’s the lot of veal breast. Eastern Europeans fit various meat stuffings into a pocket hollowed out of a bone-in veal breast. Italians, notably the Genovese with their multi-ingredient stuffing for cima for which hard-boiled eggs are de rigueur, mostly take the bones out. As does Thomas Keller in a staff meal recipe he includes in The French Laundry Cookbook, but only after it’s been braised in veal stock; deboned, the breast is trimmed, weighted, chilled, portioned, and coated with mustard and bread crumbs before being sautéed and served with various vegetables and the reduced braising liquid.

Mystery Basket asks a lot of the participating chefs, chiefly that they think beyond the common and the tried-and-true when working out a dish with the all-over-the-map list of ingredients they receive. Once again they complied in fascinating ways. Hats off to Christopher Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama; Christian Ojeda of Calistoga Ranch in Calistoga, California; and Qui Qui Musarra of Mangia Qui in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It’s not every day, as they noted, that veal breast shows up on menus, as it once did in the hazy past and mostly should—and will—again. These chefs, they were gamers as they say in the sports world.

Here’s the ingredient list they grappled with: veal breast; salt and pepper; garlic; leeks; soy sauce; beef bone marrow; whole milk; fresh whole anchovies; carrots with tops on; eggs; matsutake mushrooms; kohlrabi; honey; unsalted butter; Fontina Val d’Aosta cheese; beet greens; mustard; lemons; tomatoes; fresh ginger; Sherry vinegar; buckwheat flour; pistachios; vin santo; and no more than six of the following herbs and spices: bay leaves; mint; marjoram; cilantro; saffron; rosemary; thyme; sage; mustard seeds; juniper berries; parsley; tarragon; basil; hot or sweet paprika; coriander seeds; cloves; nutmeg; savory; and curry powder. Not too difficult, right?

Qui Qui Musarra
Mangia Qui
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

“I remember thinking the day I accepted Food Arts’ invitation to participate in the illustrious Mystery Basket—cue scary music in the background—whether I had just sold my soul to the devil. The main ingredient, veal breast, I was excited about, since it brought back warm memories from my childhood. And then came the rules and regulations. Hey, wait a minute, I thought, I’m self-employed? Well, here I go… After experimenting with a few different techniques, such as smoked salt crust-baked veal breast, sous-vide cooked veal breast, and clay-baked veal breast, I settled on using the time-honored pressure cooker, or, as my pastry chef/business partner from Brazil, calls it, ‘the cooker pressure.’”

Milk-fed breast of veal (vitello al latte). “Split marrow bones lengthwise; soak in water for 24 hours. Soak matsutake mushrooms in warm water. Trim the breast bone off the veal breast, using a cleaver or reciprocal saw. From the short ribbed section, cut a four- to five-pound piece; trim excess fat; place in a pressure cooker with 10 garlic cloves, two leeks (white only, split lengthwise), one bay leaf, one teaspoon black peppercorns, 10 juniper berries, the rind from one-half a Meyer lemon, two rosemary sprigs, three cups milk, salt, and pinch of saffron; set over high heat until the whistle blows; reduce heat; simmer one hour.

“While veal is cooking, poach 10 to 15 garlic cloves in enough melted butter to cover until tender; reserve. Cook two cups Sherry vinegar, one tablespoon each toasted mustard and coriander seeds, one-half cup honey, two-thirds teaspoon smoked paprika picante, and one cup vin santo to a thin syrupy consistency. This is the saor.

To prepare the vegetable rollatini: Trim the whites of two leeks; make a lengthwise single incision to open the leeks; blanch; lay flat to dry. Wash and trim yellow and red beet greens; sauté in butter with chopped garlic and salt and pepper. Salt and pepper the bone marrow; roast in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes; remove marrow from the bones; reserve. Trim tops off four carrots; reserve for garnish; peel the carrots; slice into bâtons; blanch; drain. Dice matsutake mushrooms as for a duxelles; gently sauté in butter; season with salt and pepper; reserve, saving half for garnish. Beat one egg with a touch of water. Heat a crêpe pan; coat with clarified butter; make a veil-thin egg crêpe to serve as the outer layer for the vegetable rollatini; remove from pan; cool to room temperature. Assemble the rollatini using the same procedure used for maki rolls: lay out egg crêpe; on bottom third, place leek leaves; add beet greens, matsutake mushrooms, carrots, and bone marrow; grate Fontina Val d’Aosta over all; season with salt and pepper; working from the bottom of the crêpe, roll upwards to end up with a rollatini 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll in parchment paper to hold.

“Safely remove lid of the pressure cooker; place veal in covered warm dish. At this point, liquid is a frightful sight. But don’t fret. Strain into a blender; add reserved butter-poached garlic; whiz away; strain through a chinois; place in a saucepan; reduce to sauce consistency; finish with enough butter to create a silky sauce.

“Warm rollatini in oven. Brown chopped pistachios in butter with reserved matsutake; season with salt and pepper. Slice veal breast between bones. Slice rollatini into thirds on the bias. Place sauce on a plate; top with a slice of veal breast and the three pieces of rollatini; drizzle with the saor; top veal breast with pistachio/matsutake relish; garnish with micro kohlrabi leaves.

“Oh, and by the way, the buckwheat flour that became the bane of my existence, I used to bake a charger plate for the table. Staci Basore, the front-of-the-house manager and another business partner, thought the Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco 2004 would fit this dish to a T. And so, after all this, the three of us repaired to a table to enjoy the spoils of our efforts.”

Christian Ojeda
Calistoga Ranch
Calistoga, California

“After receiving the list of ingredients for the Mystery Basket, I was glad to see veal breast, an item that I hadn’t used in quite some time. My 45 minute drive home from work, which involves dodging deer, skunks, and raccoons, gave me a chance to envision different ways I can integrate the ingredients. I mentally diagrammed the uses of the variety of ingredients, thinking about which ones pair well. It’s not easy to figure out how to use 23 ingredients cohesively, as called for here. The idea for this dish—a veal roulade—came to me after watching my son roll himself up in a blanket. You never know what will inspire you and when the inspiration will hit. Here’s to child’s play, then.”

Sous-vide veal breast roulade with beet green/kohlrabi puree, buckwheat/pistachio cracker, fried beet tops & whole grain mustard reduction. “Remove bones from the veal breast; trim the meat; reserve meat trim; reserve bones for the stock. Butterfly the veal breast; pound to an even thickness; season with salt and pepper.

“To make the roulade: grind 1 1/2 pounds veal trim; mix together in a bowl one-half cup diced matsutake mushrooms, one-half cup sautéed beet greens, one-half cup toasted pistachios, one-quarter cup diced leeks, one teaspoon grated lemon peel, one tablespoon chopped parsley, and one tablespoon chopped thyme; add ground veal; mix well with hands; season with salt and pepper; fold in one egg to bind; let mixture rest for at least 30 minutes. Center the sausage mixture on the flattened veal breast; roll the veal breast around the sausage with the grain; tie with twine to secure. Place the roulade in a vacuum-sealable plastic bag; vacuum-seal; cook sous-vide 10 hours at 56 degrees Celsius [133˚F].

“Meanwhile, blanch and shock two cups of beet greens; blend with one-half cup milk; reserve. Peel and roughly chop one pound kohlrabi; simmer in two cups milk, one cup water, and one tablespoon honey; strain and reserve cooking liquid; blend kohlrabi with two tablespoons butter and the juice of one-half lemon, adjusting texture with reserved cooking liquid; season with salt and white pepper. To every one-half cup kohlrabi puree, mix in two tablespoons beet green puree; reserve.

“For the buckwheat cracker, mix one cup buckwheat flour, one-quarter cup toasted ground pistachios, one-half teaspoon salt, two tablespoons butter, four tablespoons milk, and one teaspoon sweet paprika in a food processor until mixture forms a ball; roll dough one-eighth-inch thick; place on sheet pan lined with nonstick pad; bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees; remove from oven; cool; break into shards.

“Make a stock from roasted veal breast bones, six quarts water, two fresh bay leaves, three sprigs thyme, 10 peppercorns, 10 sprigs parsley; 10 coriander seeds, and three cloves garlic; simmer six hours, skimming as needed; strain; discard solids. Sauté one leek, three cloves garlic, one sprig thyme, five peppercorns, and two bay leaves until golden brown; add one-quarter cup mustard; cook until caramelized; add five chopped tomatoes; cook until almost dry; deglaze with one-quarter cup Sherry vinegar; add the stock; reduce to sauce consistency; strain; add one teaspoon each of yellow and brown mustard seeds; simmer 10 minutes more; reserve.

“To serve, place a dollop of the beet green/kohlrabi puree in the middle of the plate; drag to make a teardrop shape; place three small slices of the veal breast roulade above the puree to form an upside-down 7; stand a buckwheat cracker across the veal roulade pieces; garnish with fried beet tops; drizzle whole-grain mustard reduction.

Christopher Hastings
Hot and Hot Fish Club
Birmingham, Alabama

“It was a beautiful sunny day in Birmingham when Jim Poris from Food Arts called me for what I thought was a friendly year-end catch-up on all things food, Alabama football, kids, et cetera. It seemed very pleasant, but deep down it really was a sinister call. We have a saying down South: ‘You can cut a man’s throat with a velvet knife, and he will be dead before he even knows it.’ The velvet knife, of course, refers to kindness, friendship, and everything that allows you to get close. Not dissimilar from the old Italian saying: ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Having lived the majority of my life down South and married to an Italian, you’d think I’d have been more cautious. “His real reason for calling, I now realize, was to ask me if I would participate in the Mystery Basket feature. He was charming, effusive, light-hearted, and did a great job of appealing to my creative ego. No big deal, right? I’m a chef. It’s a basket of food. This is what I do. I tell you, Jim has a real mean streak.

“Of course, I say yes, happy to, what fun. Cheerio Jim, send me the list.

“So the next day the list arrives. Lead ingredient: veal breast. What the hell?

“If any of you out there are saying, ‘Chef, what’s the big deal?’ I say to you, ‘Ask any chef in America when was the last time he or she sniffed a veal breast? They will be lying if they say they’ve touched one in the last 10 years. Not to mention that the Mystery Basket instructions came with a caveat: Try to steer clear of traditional veal breast preps. “OK, so it’s early December, when every restaurant in America is slammed. We’re trying to finalize the schedules, budgets, and details on a major back-of-house renovation to start right after the new year. Of course, catering is nuts. A part of Jim’s evil scheme is timing. Who has time in December for this? Nobody. Truly brilliant!

“At 3 a.m. New Year’s morning, the contractors roll in and dismantle the kitchen to the studs, as scheduled. Nine days until we reopen, a very aggressive schedule. So with no kitchen to speak of, I began to focus on the veal breast. Plus a whole mess of other things I had committed to for January. Today is the 21st, and my deadline for Jim is January 23. We reopened on the 9th, as planned, but if you were to talk to anyone—one of our staff or my wife—they’d say these last 21 days have been as tough as any.

“But I believe that the truth, what you are really capable of, and happiness can be found between the hammer and the anvil. As things turned out, I think my recipe here is amazing, the process equally so. And I want to thank Jim and Food Arts for allowing me to participate.”

Smoked & sous-vide veal breast with buckwheat noodles, matsutake mushrooms, coriander, dumplings, poached egg & rich ginger broth. “Step One: Mock fish sauce. Wash and gut six fresh anchovies; toss in a bowl with one ounce salt; let sit for three hours at room temperature. Warm 10 ounces of soy sauce to 120 degrees. Rinse the anchovies and place into a ceramic bowl; add soy sauce; cover with cheesecloth; let sit at room temperature for three weeks.

“Step Two: Portion the meat of the matter. Cut the veal breast into three equal sections—the left cut third, the thicker end, is for the broth; the center third for the smoked/sous-vide portion; and the last third, the thinner right end, for the dumplings. Trim the last two portions. Hold all in the refrigerator.

“Step Three: Stock. Use a band saw to cut two-inch thick strips from the breast, cutting across the rib bones, not with them. Place breast pieces and trim in a roasting pan; place in a 400 degree convection oven until dark brown and most of the fat has rendered out. Place four tablespoons butter, carrots with tops removed, leeks, garlic, tomato, thyme, savory, and bay leaves in a stockpot; add two gallons of cold water; bring to a boil; reduce heat; simmer until reduced by 50 percent (about six hours), skimming often; strain; cool; reserve, covered, in the refrigerator.

“Step Four: Smoke/sous-vide. Liberally rub the center third veal breast with salt and black pepper; hot smoke at 120 degrees for four hours; remove; cool in the refrigerator. Use a band saw to fabricate the breast into 16 three- to four-ounce portions; vacuum-seal in plastic bags; cook sous-vide for 22 hours at 76 degrees Celsius [169˚F]; remove; chill in an ice water bath; reserve in the refrigerator.

“Step Five: Dumplings. Remove all lean meat and fat from the last third of the veal breast (should be one pound of trimmed lean veal); reserve lean meat and seven ounces of fat in separate bowls; place in bowl in freezer for 30 minutes. Halve five large marrow bones lengthwise; remove five ounces of the marrow; place in the bowl with the fat; reserve in freezer. Mince one tablespoon garlic; grind two tablespoons toasted coriander seeds; grate one tablespoon peeled fresh ginger; add these and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt to the lean meat. Set up a meat grinder with the smallest dye. Separately grind the lean meat and the fat, placing them both back in the freezer. Measure out 10 ounces of ice; place the ice and the lean meat into a food processor and puree until the mixture reaches 45 degrees Celsius [113˚F]; add the fat/marrow; blend until it reaches 56 degrees Celsius [133˚F]. Place in a container; cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against mixture so a crust doesn’t form; cover the container; refrigerate.

“Step Six: Buckwheat noodles. Place three cups of buckwheat flour, three eggs, 1 1/2 cups water, and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment; work until dough comes together, about five minutes in all; envelop with plastic wrap; reserve overnight in the refrigerator. Take a two-inch slice off the dough; roll out on a flour-dusted work surface until approximately one-eighth-inch thick; trim the edges; work into seven-inch long sheets; cut them into one-eighth-inch wide strands of noodles; repeat until all pasta is rolled and cut. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment, lightly dust the noodles with flour; cover with plastic; refrigerate.

“Step Seven: Garnishes. Poach 16 eggs until whites are just set and yolks are very soft; place in an ice bath to stop the cooking; place eggs on a plate covered by a towel; cover the eggs; reserve in the refrigerator. Cut fresh matsutake mushrooms into approximately eight wedges per mushroom; hold in refrigerator. Blanch, shock, and dry a half pound of beet greens; reserve in the refrigerator. Pick enough cilantro so that each bowl gets two big sprigs in the broth and two on top as garnish, plus two basil leaves; hold herbs in a moist towel in the refrigerator. Finely julienne a half pound of kohlrabi and a quarter pound of peeled fresh ginger; hold in the refrigerator.

“Step Eight: Poaching the dumplings. Open the plastic bags containing the sous-vide cooked veal breast pieces; remove the clear smoky gelatin from around the portions of breast; hold in a bowl. Reduce three quarts stock by 50 percent; add the smoky gelatin; form dumpling mixture into shapes one teaspoon large; poach in the stock; remove with a spider; reserve in the refrigerator.

“Step Nine: Assembly. Bring the reduced stock to a simmer; add the matsutake mushrooms, soy/anchovy sauce, and julienned ginger; cook five minutes; add the veal breast portions, beet greens, dumplings, basil, cilantro, and poached eggs last. Do not overcook! Simmer about two minutes until everything is hot. At the same time, cook the buckwheat pasta in boiling water; drain; place in individual pasta bowls or on plates; top with julienned kohlrabi; place one veal breast portion per person on each bowl of noodles; distribute matsutake mushrooms, dumplings, beet greens, and herbs evenly; place one egg per person on the veal breast; pour two ounces broth over the dish; garnish each bowl with two cilantro sprigs. Add a few drops of aged Sherry vinegar to brighten the flavor. And for your drinking pleasure, a glass—or better, glasses—of Dr. Loosen Riesling Kabinett Mosel Blue Slate 2009.”