Mass marketing has made so many luxuries commonplace that we sometimes forget those treasures that don't seem to be around any more.
Veal roast and many specialty cuts are culinary art forms that seem to exist only in gourmet meat stores or in the best-equipped of supermarkets these days.
The meat has not exactly vanished. You find, for instance, chunks of lean veal for stews and fricassees at prices that compare favorably with beef and even chicken breasts. But the loin roasts, commonplace 25 years ago, at least in the southeastern states, seem to have gone the way of real pearls.
An idea of the rarity of a veal roast comes from the response of my butcher when I asked for a quote. "It's not in the computer," said he. It could not be priced even if there was plenty in the food locker, he said. So my veal roast was not only rare, it was priceless.
Veal shoulder and chops are seen more frequently than any roasts. As a substitute for roast, around our house a veal stroganoff made with trimmed veal cubes has become a regular. It is relatively economical since serving it with rice or pasta stretches quantities considerably.
The restaurant trade, of course, still highlights ethnic veal dishes. In Italian cuisine, piccata versions made from prime scaloppine, and showy osso buco, the fashionable veal shank, are popular.
Though animal rights activists here have the veal supply under fire, the meat remains a pervasive tradition in European cooking.
In Polish cuisine, veal is seared, then baked, sliced and served with sour cream, paprika and dumplings. Chopped veal used in patties and meatballs in the Polish style are seasoned with dill, an interesting and appropriate choice. In the Balkans and Armenia, veal is often paired with eggplant in a variety of dishes, while in south Germany the escort is asparagus. In Mediterranean lands, olive oil is used in the saute and Madeira or Marsala is the wine used in saucing the dish. Grated Parmesan or fontina cheese is often part of the garnish in veal dishes of provencal type. The Swedes season veal with allspice and escort the meat with pickles. In Vienna, the schnitzel fillets are marinated in lemon juice and smothered in sauteed onions that have been seasoned with paprika and napped in sour cream.
Veal chops can be caressed with whispers of rosemary, sage, marjoram or tarragon (but not all at once, choose one). Simply vTC press small amounts into the meat before frying. (It helps if you run your dried spices through a mortar and pestle to wake up their flavors.) Veal piccata loves Italian vermouth; Veal Marengo, tomatoes; and Veal cordon bleu, Swiss cheese and ham.
Had the butcher been able to supply a veal roast -- and with enough notice, some can -- I'd have been ready. For my ideal roast, I'd first plug it with thin slivers of garlic here and there. Then shake it up in a bag with plenty of paprika, flour and pepper. Sear the roast in the bottom of a Dutch oven in which you have placed 3 or 4 tablespoons of peanut oil and then gently roast in the oven, covered, or if the oven is busy, on a stove-top burner set at medium-low flame.
The roast's internal temperature should reach 170 degrees for the meat to be done. While thin veal fillets will cook in 2 to 4 minutes, most chefs recommend cooking veal roasts and shoulders until thoroughly done.
About 20 minutes to a half-hour before the veal roast is done, pour in a can or two of chicken broth and turn down the heat. Take out the roast when done, reduce the stock and veal juices by about half and keep the liquid hot (but not boiling). Stir in some sour cream and a teaspoon or so of paprika and serve the sauce with veal slices.
Easier to find are lean, tender veal chunks or shoulder steaks that can be cubed and prepared as Hungarian veal paprika in a not-so-elaborate formula that is a cousin of my veal roast treatment. Both get their final fillip of flavor from sour cream, carefully handled.
Hungarian veal paprika
Serves four to six.
This recipe is by Mildred Knopf from "Memoirs of a Cook" (Atheneum, 1986, $19.95).
2 pounds young veal shoulder, cubed
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon paprika
12 medium-sized fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sour cream
few drops of lemon juice
Season 2 pounds cubed veal shoulder with salt and pepper. Dredge with flour. Melt 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening in a heavy pan. When the shortening is hot, add the veal and brown on all sides. Add chopped onions and cook until soft but not brown. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon paprika. Shake the pan to distribute the seasonings. Cover and cook over low heat until the veal is tender, about 1 hour.
While the veal is cooking, slice 12 medium mushrooms and fry them lightly in 2 tablespoons of butter. When the veal is tender, add the mushrooms.