Q. I bought a four-pound piece of veal breast, which seemed like such a good value -- $1.19 per pound. I'd heard you could stuff it, so I separated the meat from the three rib bones with paring knife, packed a layer of ginger-flavored ground veal forcemeat on the bones and laid the flap of meat on top of this stuffing. I then roasted the stuffed breast at 350 degrees for two hours and served it with a sauce. It tasted marvelous but looked hideous. The top layer of meat had shrunk to half its original size, exposing the forcemeat center and the rib bones underneath! What did I do wrong?
A. You didn't work with the whole breast, just part of it. The veal breast is a 2- to 3-foot quasi-triangular strip of muscle, cartilage, fat and rib ends removed from each side of the calf's rib cage as the animal is cut into its wholesale and retail parts. It weighs 8 to 10 pounds and, to facilitate retail packaging, is often divided into two segments, each containing three rib bones.
There are two ways to stuff veal breast: (1) the breast is boned and the meat rolled and tied around a stuffing, and (2) a pocket is made between meat and rib bones, filled, and the bone-stuffing-meat sandwich tied shut.
You tried a third method -- a combination of the two -- which doesn't work because of the muscle's high connective tissue content. Collagen fibers within the connective tissue shrink on exposure to heat. To prevent this, the muscle portion must be held in place.
If you want to try the first method, which requires somewhat more boning and tying skill, see pages 72-73 of Time-Life's "Beef and Veal" volume of The Good Cook series (Time-Life Books, Inc. 1979).
The second stuffing method is more convenient to prepare and to serve. But you must order the whole breast from the butcher. Cut off the one fatty, fleshy end square with the side of a rib; this can be ground and incorporated with the stuffing. Then, starting at the long edge where the cut ends of the rib bones protrude, make an incision between the meat flap and bone and carefully cut a pocket. Use the bones as a surface to cut against and leave the meat attached on three of the four sides.
You can stuff this pocket quite full; stuffed veal breast slices are commonly 50 to 75 percent stuffing. Sew the initial incision shut by puncturing through the meat cap and between each rib bone one-half-inch in from the initial incision. Then tie shut with six-inch lengths of string. If there are six rib bones, then, there should be five "sutures."
Now you can roast the stuffed veal breast without fear of forcemeat exposure. When the roast is done, the pan drippings make excellent broth, which you can serve as is or thicken to make a sauce. For the best drippings, remove the roast (internal temperature 160 degrees), heat pan over a burner and "deglaze" all the wonderful, brown crust by pouring in a cup or two of white wine. Reduce by half to boil off alcohol and concentrate flavors. Season with salt, pepper and a little butter, if desired.
Here's a tasty forcemeat recipe and variations which can be used to stuff just about anything except fish. By the way, stuffed veal breast is also excellent sliced thinly and served cold with the usual cold-plate accoutrements -- pickles, mayonnaise, sauce verte, and so on. MULTIPURPOSE FORCEMEAT (Enough for a 6 to 8 pound veal breast)
2 pounds fairly lean ground veal or pork
4 strips raw bacon, diced
2 tablespoons madeira
2 tablespoons cognac
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt Place ingredients in mixing bowl and blend on medium-low speed for 5 minutes. Use to stuff vegetables, veal, chicken breasts, pork chops and so on.
For more textural, visual and gastronomic excitement, here are a few variations. Just blend the extra ingredients in the above or make the indicated substitutions. BASQUE STYLE
1/4 cup chopped pimientos 1/4 cup chopped green peppers
1/2 cup chopped watercress
1/4 cup chopped chorizo sausage
Combine ingredients with forcemeat and use as stuffing. BURGUNDIAN STYLE
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup diced ham
1/2 cup red wine (substitute for madeira and cognac)
Combine ingredients with forcemeat and use as stuffing. SRI LANKAN STYLE
1 cup sliced onions
2 tablespoons clarified butter or oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon (substitute for cloves)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (substitute for nutmeg)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (substitute for cognac and madeira)
Saute' onions over low heat in clarified butter or oil until golden. Combine onions with remaining ingredients and forcemeat and use as stuffing. MOTHER HEN STYLE
1/2 cup cooked spinach, chopped fine and squeezed to extract excess water
1 clove garlic, minced
6 hard-cooked eggs
Combine spinach and garlic with forcemeat. Arrange eggs in the middle while stuffing meat or vegetable. SICHUAN STYLE
1 cup sliced Chinese sausage (available in Oriental groceries)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons soy sauce (subtract 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients with forcemeat and use as stuffing.