Just as a lamb is a young sheep, veal is beef processed before it reaches maturity. Most veal calves are processed at 10 to 12 months, while adult steers are typically processed at 22 months. Veal is a natural byproduct of the dairy industry, because cows must give birth to produce milk. Female calves join the dairy’s milk producers, and the males, well, they become the veal you find in your supermarket. This is one of the few instances when being born a boy is a bummer.
Veal is tender because the animal’s muscles are underdeveloped, and it has just as much protein as beef. Because the U.S.D.A. banned hormone use in veal a decade ago, veal is legally hormone free. Choose between the two basic ways to cook veal, dry heat or moist heat, based on the cut you’ve purchased. Tender chops, steaks, or tenderloin respond well to dry heat methods like grilling, broiling or pan searing. Tougher cuts with more connective tissue, like osso buco, short ribs or stew meat, benefit from moist cooking like simmering or braising. The U.S.D.A. recommends cooking veal chops, roasts and steaks to 145* (medium rare), 160* (medium), or 170* (well done).
Chops are probably the easiest veal cut to cook. There are two options: rib chops, from the loin, and porterhouse chops, from the rack. And they are among the most expensive, so you will want to get it right. Pierre Franey offered his advice in the Chicago Tribune (August 27, 1989), “A properly cooked veal chop should be just a bit pink along the bone, not red.” (He finds rarer veal “unappetizingly pink and lacking in flavor,” and well done veal dry.) “If you have a meat thermometer, this should translate to 145 to 150* at the center. Of course, it is not always practical to pierce chops with a meat thermometer, so I usually use the trusty finger method. Press the meat carefully and quickly while it is cooking – naturally, avoid touching the hot surface of the pan – and if the meat bounces back readily, it needs further cooking. As soon as the meat loses its resilience, it is done. Judging this takes some experience, but once you master the technique, it is foolproof.”