For this braised veal breast, the meat is rubbed with garlic and rosemary, rolled up, and simmered in a vegetable-rich, white wine broth.
The One’s birthday extravaganza went off without a hitch. And I take back everything I said in my last post. The One overcame his Luddite ways and actually picked up the remote to fiddle with his new stereo, the crowds along Fifth Avenue were thinner than usual, the night wasn’t terribly cold, and the decorations were better than usual. (The ten-ton Norway spruce at Rockefeller Center was sparkling with predominantly green lights to symbolize its energy-saving feature: 30,000 LED bulbs, which were partially powered by solar panels atop of the Rock.)
The one thing I’m happy not to take back is our dinner at Marco Canora’s Hearth. It was a slam-dunk. (Holy cow, my first-ever sports metaphor.) When the hostess snaked us through the room and sat us at a four top, I was instantly plumped with self-importance. I was sure they knew who I was: David Leite, food writer. I expected the staff to bow and scrape in my exalted presence, but, instead, what to my wondering eyes did appear? A waiter who treated me (as well) as he did the other guests. No more, no less. My face began to set in that “Oh, no you din’t” expression—eyebrows arched, eyes half-lidded, mouth curled until bracketed by two deeply etched commas.
“I’m sure they’re secretly thrilled,” said The One, “and don’t want to make a fuss over you in public.” I knew it was a lie, but it was just the emotional grease I needed to slide me into the evening without pouting.
After perusing the menu, I told the waiter (henceforward named “Michael,” because when I was a waiter, it seemed any time a customer forgot my name, he called me Michael) that I wanted to order only dishes that are in Marco’s cookbook, Salt to Taste.
“You pick for me,” I said. Off Michael went to confer with Marco.
“Okay, it’ll be grilled quail with farro, leeks, tomato, and a quail egg,” he said on his return, “followed by braised veal breast with sweetbreads, cauliflower, and Romanesco sauce and a side of gnocchi.”
Superb. For a first course, The One ordered grilled calamari with smoked chickpeas and frisée, and for an entrée, roasted venison (which he was craving and why we picked Hearth), quince, autumn vegetables, and venison sausage.
The quail was beautifully grilled, moist, and tender. The knife Michael slid into my place setting seemed almost a nod to tabletop protocol rather than to fulfill any real function. My fingers were tool enough for me. The meat had a slightly charred tang that didn’t overwhelm the quail. The One and I actually shared from each other’s plate (a habit of mine he absolutely hates—something to do with never having enough to eat when he was a kid). His squid, like my quail, was tender, and the chickpeas picked up the smokiness where the quail left off, but—again—not overpowering his plate.
(Confession: Somewhere in my meal were these amazing little gems of smoked lentils—I think, with the quail—but by then, the 2001 Bosquet des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape à la Gloire de Mon Grand-Père had its grenache grip on me.)
The hit of the evening for me were the braised veal breast and gnocchi. I could have stripped down and rubbed that little glistening tournedo of veal goodness all over my body. It was so silky and unctuous, so tender and rich with meaty flavor. Then there were the gnocchi. Now, I’ve had what I believe to be the best gnocchi ever while dining at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s Upper East Side restaurant. They were little puffs of air—what Cheetos secretly aspire to be. And since then, whenever I’ve seen them on a menu, I’ve ordered them, hoping to relive that gastronomic equivalent of a bosom-smoothing grandmother moment with Lidia. But, alas, I’ve had nothing but a string of belly bombs, potato bullets, and chewy corks. So I was delighted, and relieved, to discover Marco’s were a very, very close second to Lidia’s. And while eating them, a memory bobbed up to the surface of my conscience: I had had these before, hadn’t I? Yes, yes. I vaguely remembered dining here with a magazine editor and eating these pillows of potato-y loveliness. (I think that night was muddied by several bottles of wine, too. Note to self: Read the 12 Steps.)
The One loved his medium-rare venison, but it was too gamey for me. No matter. I was content with my veal and gnocchi, and when The One asked to have a few, it was I who felt the need to wrap my arms around my plate and scream, “No, they’re mine! All mine!” But it was his birthday. I smiled and let him have his fill. Hey, I’m just that kind of guy.
Click for Marco’s gnocchi recipe.
Braised Veal Breast
There are two things that make all the difference in this recipe: the right liquid and the right pan. You want a broth or stock with a certain amount of gelatin. If you have veal stock, that’s great. If not, add 1/2 cup demiglace (reduced veal stock) to homemade or commercial chicken broth. The demiglace will provide the viscosity necessary to glaze the veal properly at the end of cooking. As far as the pan goes, you want one just big enough to hold the meat and aromatic vegetables snugly so the broth surrounds but doesn’t swamp the meat. This is true whenever you braise, but it’s particularly important here. Using a pan that’s too big will force you to use too much broth, which will in turn reduce the concentration of flavor and leave you with a weak-tasting, thin sauce. As long as the meat and vegetables fit with room to add broth to cover, the pan is fine.–Marco Canora
There are several advantages to making the veal a day in advance. 1) Breaking the cooking into two parts makes for short easy work just before serving. 2) The veal can be sliced neatly only when chilled. 3) It is easier to defat the chilled braising liquid—just spoon the fat off before you reduce the liquid. In a pinch, you can forgo these advantages and start and finish the veal in the same day. But in that case, I would advise you to skip slicing it and serve it whole—a dramatic if slightly more rustic way to go.
Braised Veal Breast
- Quick Glance
- 1 H
- 4 H
- Serves 6