The dictionary tells us that one of the meanings of the Spanish word ternera is veal. But that is only half the story because when we see a piece of ternera at the butcher’s it’s nothing like veal as we know it in Britain and France: it’s red, not white.
This comes about because the meat Spaniards call ternera is too old to be the veal we buy in Britain and France. For Britons and the French (their word is veau) veal is the white meat from the calf and in Spain it is called ternera blanca or ternera lechal. That is what you must ask for when you want meat from the calf.
In restaurants the word ternera will always mean meat from an animal that is at least one year old. You will seldom see ternera blanca or ternera lechal on menus because its cost would make the price of restaurant dishes quite prohibitive: it’s also expensive at the butcher’s.
Its high price means you see it in very few outlets. I have never seen ternera blanca at the Mercat d’Olivar, although one stall at the Santa Catalina market frequently has it. The best source I know of is the supermarkets of El Corte Inglés in the Avenidas and in Jaime III.
How expensive is ternera blanca? Packs of thin escalopes at El Corte Inglés sell at about €24 a kilo. Loin fillets are priced at around €42 a kilo, as are entrecôte steaks.
These are obviously cuts for special occasions and are not for everyday meals. But we can still enjoy white veal because there are more economical options: serving white veal at home needn’t put our bank statement into red numbers.
Minced veal, for instance, is usually priced at under €13 a kilo. It would make delicate meatballs as well as patties to be eaten with potatoes and veggies or with a mixed salad. The patties are also a delight when done in a sauce and served over pasta or rice or with mashed potatoes.
Another economical veal option is ossobucco. It is also priced at around €13 and is a good buy. A thickish slice of the shin, enough for one serving, costs around €3. This makes it an ideal weekend dish, either done milanesa style with risotto or in a white sauce.
El Corte Inglés sometimes has diced veal suitable for stews or blanquettes. They didn’t have any last time I looked in, so I can’t give a price, but it is also one of the more economical buys. Allow 150-200grs per person when making a dish with minced or diced veal.
As veal comes from a very young animal and has very little fat, it is more of a texture than a taste. That makes it ideal with sauces of all kinds. French and Italian cooks handle veal beautifully and you will find superb recipes in any book on French and Italian cuisine.
The blanquette de veau, a stew in a white sauce, is one of the classic dishes of provincial French cooking and although I have been eating it for decades, I never tire of it. You will find the recipe in any book that covers basic French cooking.
You may like to try the following dish based on a French recipe that combines the use of wine with a large amount of garlic. It calls for a goodish white wine with plenty of flavour, such as a verdejo from Rueda.
You will find very good verdejos for around €6 at La Vinoteca (Calle Bartolomé Pou 29) or El Corte Inglés and there are more economical ones at other supermarkets.
For four people you will need: 800grs stewing veal or ossobucco, 1 small onion stuck with two cloves, 3 glass of verdejo, 30 (thirty) large unpeeled cloves of garlic, salt and pepper to taste, 1 small carton of cream and a bouquet garni consisting of a piece of leek, several sprigs of parsley, a stalk of leaf celery, 3 sprigs of fresh thyme and one bay leaf.
If using stewing veal, cut the pieces to roughly the same size. The ossobucco should also be as much as possible of the same size.
Put the meat into a sauté pan or a suitable saucepan with a lid and place the onion in the centre with the pieces of the bouquet garni between the meat.
Salt lightly and pour over the wine and just enough water to cover the meat. Throw in the 30 unpeeled cloves of garlic, bring to the boil, and simmer, covered, until the veal is tender.
Remove and discard the pieces of bouquet garni and the onion and transfer the veal to a covered plate. Put the garlic cloves into a wire mesh sieve. Bring the liquid in the pan to a vigorous boil for five minutes to reduce it.
Meanwhile, put the sieve over a bowl and rub the garlic through the mesh with the back of a spoon. If there is still a lot of liquid left in the pan, let it reduce a bit more before stirring in the garlic purée.
Add the cream and stir well to blend while the mixture comes back to simmering point. Add the veal and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so, uncovered, until the sauce becomes very thick. Serve on very hot plates.
Fresh egg noodles tossed with plenty of butter make the perfect accompaniment for this dish. It could also be served with buttered rice or boiled new potatoes.
The small Majorcan potatoes called patató are best for serving with this dish. But allow plenty of time for cooking them: they always take longer than you’d expect.
This recipe also works well with cubes of leg or shoulder of lamb. Better still is milk-fed lamb, or cordero lechal as it is called in Spanish.
Although this dish contains 30 plump cloves of garlic, it does not have a garlic taste. The garlic is cooked for long enough for it to lose its pungent flavour and the final result is deliciously mellifluous.
Veal escalopes in Palma’s Italian restaurants are never much good because they are not made with white veal. To make them at home you will need: 400grs smallish escalopes, 50grs butter, a little seasoned flour, 4 tbsps marsala or sherry, lemon juice, salt and pepper, 3 tbsps cream, Makes two servings.
Sprinkle the escalopes with lemon juice and coat them with flour. Melt the butter in a frying pan on a high heat and sauté the escalopes for one minute on each side.
Pour in the marsala or sherry and let it bubble vigorously until it looks syrupy and add the cream. Stir well, scraping up the caramelised veal juices from the pan, season to taste, and simmer for a minute or to when the sauce should have a café au lait colour. Serve with buttered pasta or long grain rice.