What, no more Wienerschnitzel?
Saturday 28 January 1995
As far as I am concerned, however, food is one of the consolations of life: like art, families, children and friends. A life without veal has one simple consequence: it eliminates a big section of the gastronomic repertory. n For instance, it wipes out about 75 per cent of Italian meat dishes and one of the few glories of Austrian cuisine, the Wienerschnitzel. More importantly, it erases some of the most subtle of dishes, all those in which the meat component is subordinate to the delicacy of the sauce in which it is cooked.
I will pay my obeisance to humane slaughtering up front.Since calves and humans share the same fate, that of being born to die, I am happier if we all have a good life first. But the heart of the matter about food is that you have choice. n Only the poordo not have choice, and they do not read newspapers either, so they eat what they can, whether it is politically correct or not. So, given the chance, does everyone down the feed-line: from shark to shrimp. Nor is the vegetable kingdom free of mayhem for fodder. Should the Venus fly-trap stop molesting flies?
No one forces anyone to eat veal, meat or anything else. Vegetarians are welcome in God's many mansions, for in Eden there were only fruit and veg. But I take unkindly to the zealots who tell me what I should do. n I am always amazed, with the number of things that preoccupy me, from earning a living to ordinary survival, from concern over the many injustices in the world to earning salvation, that there are still people who have so much leisure and outrage.
As Emily Green has pointed out on these pages, a little hypocrisy goes a long way, and we all know what idle hands make. In Britain as in America, veal is as unknown as kangaroo, or anything green to an Argentine. Good veal is rare. n Good veal, like good anything, is best reared and slaughtered in natural conditions. Like any part of the food-chain, it is best when it ingests its natural feed: in the case of veal, its mother's milk first and, if it is slaughtered after weaning, good, fresh, sweet grass. All forms of industrial farming are bad for flavour, texture and nutrition.
That said, if we are going to eat things that we kill, whether it is pulling up a lettuce or throttling a hen, then veal is not merely a delicacy, fit only for the elite; it is also a reasonable, healthy, nutritious and delectable food, and if we as a nation do not "like" it, more's the pity.
We can grow fine veal, but we do not. We could eat it, but we have never had it. Most of the veal some of us may have tried in restaurants is Dutch. Like everything else in the Netherlands except fresh fish, it is without flavour.
I say it is a reasonable price, but I am told it is expensive. Both opinions are true. The fact is that where a reasonable steak, to be properly cooked, should be at least a half-inch thick and therefore weigh at least 6oz, veal should be eaten very thin: 100g of veal will do where 200g of beef will not. Why is this? Well, because veal should be barely cooked, otherwise it hardens. So, to cook it quickly, it is sliced prodigiously thin and then flattened. n Why are veal and veal stock such favourites among chefs? Answer: because the flavour is more unobtrusive than that of any other meat, and thus it can be used in an almost infinite number of ways. Why is it healthy? Because it contains a minimum of fat.
Faced with modern cooking requirements (economy, minimum preparation, health consciousness, no fuss, speedy preparation), I would choose veal, pork and fish nine times out of 10, and in that order: fish coming last simply because it is now more expensivethan meat and less reliable.
But I would choose veal especially because, were it readily available and were we allowed to navigate safely through this fug of "concern" and compassion (kindly show me a compassionate animal), it is so splendidly simple to prepare. n A Wienerschnitzel (or a Milanese cutlet or a Fiorentina, or a piccata al limone) all take less than 10 minutes from conception to table.
There is no waste. There is no mystique about what to serve with it or drink with it. Veal goes with anything. If surveys show that as a nation we think it has no flavour, that is a reflection on our cooking, or on the veal we can obtain, not on the meat.
If, as she reaches her 99th birthday, you were to tell my mother there was no more veal, she who has eaten little else in the way of meat all her life would ask: "Why ever not?"
If I told her it was because of the cruelty of a calf's life, she would understand. She has lived through nigh on a century of cruelty and she would not wish it on any living creature, even a fly (mosquitoes are excepted). But she would say: "We're all going to die anyway."
And then she would shake her head and ask why so many of the pleasures of life have been diminished since she was born.
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