Veal Piccata

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I grew up in a family with divorced parents and every other weekend was spent with my mother, stepfather and two stepbrothers. Inevitably there was a lot riding on these weekends, four days out of every month that we spent all together as a family. My parents worked hard at making these weekends fun for everyone, a daunting task given our 9 year spread and vastly different interests. While activities and outings were met with mixed reviews, one thing we all could agree on was Saturday night family dinner.

In many ways it’s hard to believe we could all agree on a favorite dish given our diverse tastes in food. My stepfather, who is French, to this day feels strongly that garlic, parsley, salt and pepper are all one really needs to season a dish…any dish… ever. I on the other hand could live on highly spiced dishes with loads of cilantro, an herb that in large quantities might literally send him to an early grave. One of my brothers has always been rather adventurous when it comes to food while the other, even today at age of 42, could probably live on baked ziti and cereal.

My mother, being the extraordinary cook that she is, somehow figured out that veal piccata with its sharp lemony flavor and comforting soft texture was the perfect dish to nourish our family. She’d serve it with two types of angel hair pasta, one with loads of garlic, parsley and olive oil, and the other with “shit sauce,” a term my stepfather coined for tomato sauce out of a jar for the brother who liked to keep things “traditional”. I loved the way the lemony sauce from the veal added just the right acidity to the pasta with garlic and olive oil and how the pasta with tomato sauce out of a jar felt like the perfect sweet finish when the meat was done.

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It’s hard to remember what we did the rest of the evening. My oldest brother probably went out to meet friends while the younger one stayed home with me and our dog Dixie to watch Saturday Night Live and eat mint chocolate chip ice cream with Rediwhip.

My partner doesn’t eat veal and so I never make this dish for our family. But on the rare occasion that I’m visiting home without him, it’s the comfort dish that I always ask my mom to make. Like most comfort foods, it will always taste best in my memory, back when the built up excitement around these infrequent family dinners made it sometimes difficult to dig in, and it never felt like there was enough.

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Tips and Tricks

  • The word scaloppine implies that a dish is made with thinly sliced meat that is dredged in flour, sautéed in oil and then reheated in a wine or lemon sauce. It’s an Italian technique that may be used with chicken or veal and the sauce may vary from a piccata sauce that is tart and lemony, to a rich mushroom and madeira wine sauce.  Either way, the technique is the same so once you get in the habit of moving through the first few steps of this recipe you will be able to vary it to meet your taste preferences.  If you do not eat veal, feel free to substitute for boneless chicken breasts or thighs.  Because these won’t be as thin as the scaloppine you buy from the store, be sure to pound it with a meat tenderizing mallet. You may even want to do this with your veal, though if you’ve purchased it as scaloppine then it should already be thinly cut. When pounding any meat, I usually do it between two pieces of saran wrap for an easy clean up.
  • Six fillets may seem like a lot of meat for 3 people but the fillets will shrink once they are sautéed in the pan.  I don’t know the science behind it so you’ll have to look it up.  All I know is what may look like a lot in the prep phase will surely be gone by the end of the meal.
  • De-glazing is an important technique for any scaloppine dish and many pan sauces in general.  The real benefit is that by using the same pan which you browned your meat in, you are reserving all the juices, fat and dredging flour that was left behind and incorporating it into your sauce.  The remaining dredging flour will also help to thicken your sauce so you don’t have to add any thickeners later on, which can sometimes mute your flavor or worse, make for a clumpy sauce.  My mom’s recipe deglazes the pan with a lemon juice and water mixture but I’ll often use white wine as well. If you’re using wine in a dish, it’s best to deglaze your pan with it first to allow as much time for the alcohol to cook off.
  • The one warning I would issue with this dish is that it is very lemony!  Many other piccata recipes that I’ve looked at call for butter and white wine instead of all lemon.  My response is “but this is how mama used to make!”  That said, if you prefer a less acidic sauce, I would definitely add a 1/4 cup of white wine and one or two tablespoons of butter to the sauce for more richness.  Also, don’t forget that this sauce is best served with a starch like pasta, orzo, polenta or mashed potatoes which will all help to soak up some of that acidity.

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VEAL PICCATA

Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 6 veal scaloppine fillets
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 2 lemons
  • About 1 cup of flour for dredging
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

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Generously sprinkle your veal scaloppine with salt and pepper.  Juice 2 lemons to extract about a 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Measure your juice in a liquid measuring cup and add to it 1/4 cup of water.  Finely chop your garlic and parsley and set aside.

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On medium high heat, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan that can hold all your veal.  Remember, the veal fillets will shrink.  A large sauté pan is best as you’ll be making a sauce in the same pan.  While the oil is heating, dredge your veal in flour.  Do this by pouring 1 cup of all purpose flour on a separate plate and coating each veal scaloppine on both sides one by one in the flour.  Put each coated fillet back on the large plate or cutting board that you used when dressing them with salt and pepper and wait until the oil is hot to begin frying them all together.

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Once the oil is hot, add your veal. Warning, if the oil is smoking, it’s too hot.  You can always test it by flicking some flour off of your finger tips and watching to see whether it sizzles.  Alternatively, if you hear a nice sizzling sound as you place your meat in the pan, you’re on the right path. If you hear nothing, remove that piece and let the oil continue to heat.  Cook veal filets on each side for 2-3 minutes so they are lightly browned.  Once you flip the veal, add your chopped garlic. It’s best to add the garlic after the veal has begun browning to avoid burning it in the pan.  Once both sides are evenly browned, remove the veal from the pan and place on a clean plate.  Add to your garlic the lemon juice and water and use a spatula to remove the brown bits of residual meat and flour left from the meat.  This is called deglazing. Let the sauce cook until it begins to thicken (3-4 minutes).  For extra richness, add one or two tablespoons of butter to the sauce at this time and let it melt.  See the Tips and Tricks section for how to incorporate white wine as well.

Return the meat to the pan and make sure that each piece is well coated with sauce. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and place in a serving dish.  Serve with pasta tossed with garlic and olive oil, mashed potatoes, polenta or orzo.

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