Saltimbocca bocca bocca

This is a recipe post, but I’m going to start it with an opinion. This is not a very fashionable view in some quarters, but I like veal. Moreover, I actually think that for meat eaters who also consume dairy products, there are strong ethical reasons for eating veal, so long as it’s responsibly produced. The logic goes like this – dairy cattle have been selectively bred for certain traits, specifically the ability to produce milk and not for the quality of their beef. Despite endless artificial selection, male dairy cows still won’t grow udders, which results in a conundrum for the farmer: dairy cows must breed continually to ensure they produce milk. But 50% of the calves are males, which will never grow into milk-producers or be viable beef cattle, leaving two options – kill these male calves at birth or rear them for veal.

The UK has some of the strictest legislation in the world regarding ethical production of veal, but the domestic market for veal is so small that most calves are either exported to Europe (where rearing standards are generally lower), or shot at birth. And a lot are shot at birth. If however there was more of a domestic market for veal, these animals would be reared for 6 months to the higher standards that exist in the UK. This is not a long life I grant you, but it’s surely better better than death following immediately after birth. Finally, it’s worth noting that Compassion in World Farming endorses the eating of veal for these reasons, and it’s not just me and my deranged meat-saturated mind that thinks like this.

Anyway, now for the veal recipe: saltimbocca (‘jumps in the mouth’, apparently) is a simple Italian dish of rolled veal parcels, pan fried then braised in white wine or marsala to finish. This is a classic Roman recipe and I should credit Elizabeth David for introducing me to it.

What? (for two people)
2 veal escalopes
prosciutto or other dried ham
sage leaves
cocktail sticks
250ml white wine or marsala

Place a veal escalope between a couple of sheets of greaseproof paper and use a rolling pin or meat mallet to hammer it thin – don’t be shy, it should only be a couple of millimetres thick. Do this for all the veal, then cut these (now much wider) escalopes into pieces approximately 10cm x 15cm (don’t worry about being exact). Place half a piece of prosiutto over each piece of veal, put 1 sage leaf at one end then roll up around the sage leaf to make a mini meat cigar. Push a cocktail stick through it to hold it in place, then continue until you’ve used all the veal.

Melt a generous knob of butter in a frying pan, and over a brisk heat, fry the saltimbocca until golden brown all over. Now turn the heat down a bit and pour in your marsala or white wine and let it reduce by half. Plate up the saltimbocca, taking the cocktail sticks out, then pour the wine sauce over the top. Serve with a green salad, and whatever stodgy side dish takes your fancy – polenta, buttered fettucine, couscous, sauteed or mashed potatoes are my suggestions.

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