Veal's cardinal rule: Don't overcook

ASK THE CHEF

March 17, 2002|By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan | Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Q. I enjoy the taste of succulent veal, be it roast or chops. However, I am not always able to achieve the texture desired. Additionally, what seasonings do you recommend?

A. The key is to not overcook the meat. Overcooking will toughen and ruin the texture. Also, depending upon the cut, it is best to sear the outside of the meat in a hot frying pan with a little oil, then finish cooking your veal in a moderately hot oven. Also, if you are cooking a roast or some other large cut, remember to let the meat rest for 15 to 20 minutes after cooking and before carving in order to set the juices.

As far as seasoning goes, I personally like oregano, rosemary, marjoram and sage. Mustard, sherry and garlic work well, too.

Q. What is the best cut for beef stew? I remember my mother cutting up a piece of meat for her stew, which was the best I've ever tasted. To save time, I buy pre-cut "stew meat." Is that a problem?

A. First of all, did you ever wonder why stew meat that is already cut up is so expensive? You're paying top dollar for someone in the back of the store to cut up irregular end pieces. Even worse, pre-cut pieces are normally different sizes, and because of that they don't cook uniformly. You can bite into one piece of meat and it will be nice and tender like your mom used to make. The next piece will have the texture of the bottom of your shoe.

Your mom did the right thing by cutting the meat herself. That way she guaranteed the pieces would all be alike and would cook evenly. I can only guess at the cut of beef she used. I'll bet that since your mom was a great cook she knew that chuck was the way to go. There are different names for various chuck cuts, but they all work well when evenly cubed.

Stew honchos debate about whether you should brown or not brown, flour or not flour the meat. Those issues are open for discussion, but one thing is certain. The stewing temperature has to be less than 212 degrees -- the temperature at which liquid boils -- because if you boil the meat it will get tough and dry. If you sear the meat first on the stove in an ovenproof pan, then finish the stew in the oven, you can make sure it won't boil -- and you don't have to watch it. Make your mother proud -- cut up your own meat.

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