The Veal Deal
An Italian cook extols the flavor of veal that's been roasted, country style, on the stove
To an Italian cook, a roast is a bird or a cut of meat simmered on the stove, usually with no more juices in the pan than it takes to keep the food from sticking. "Is there any reason why it has to be over the stove?" you might ask. "Wouldn't it turn out just as well in the oven?" The answer to the first question is historical. Until shortly after the Second World War, very few Italian home kitchens had reliable ovens. There were only two ways to go about making a roast: the country way, turning it on a spit over the embers of a fire, and the town way, cooking it on the stovetop. Now, of course, Italian cooks all have ovens. So why don't they use them?
Part of the reason is a natural disinclination to abandon a comfortable method that has always worked. More important, however, is that stovetop roasting produces flavor in a particular way. It is the paramount principle of Italian cooking that the truest, most satisfying flavors are the ones that reside within the ingredients. But it is up to the cook to make the flavors that lie dumbly within come forward and express themselves. Oven roasting, in most of its applications, addresses itself chiefly to texture and consistency. Italian-style pot roasting, on the other hand, while it shares those concerns, also brings with it some of the important benefits of braising. It elicits something far more profound than tenderness of flesh or textured surface: it makes the flavors speak.
Many people consider veal a bland and potentially dry meat, either accepting its presumed limitations in the name of delicacy or overcoming them by slathering it with a sauce. In the recipe that follows, however, you will see that there are rich sources of flavor deep within that can be prodded out. The naturally generated cooking juices are all the sauce the meat needs.
You begin by inserting strips of pancetta and cornichons into the veal. Pancetta bastes the meat as it cooks, protecting its moderate reserves of moisture and fostering the development of succulence, while the acidity of the pickles contributes liveliness. Before cooking, the meat is marinated for about 30 minutes in lemon juice, whose aromatic qualities the veal draws in and makes its own.
I confess that on occasion I have succumbed to the temptation of slipping the pot into a 350° oven, walking away and letting the oven do the work. Is there a cook in the world who is totally immune to spells of laziness? Although the oven does an acceptable job, I miss the profuse blossoming of flavors and aromas that the pot produces over the stove, so that is how I always do my veal roast now.