Years ago I was taught by Ken to roast whole veal shanks. The process was slow and at first you do not think anything is happening. Time and 325 degree F oven allow for a magical transformation to take place in the glorious shanks. When roasting a whole shank you are not only are creating a delicious preparation, showmanship is involved. When a whole roasted veal shank walks through a dining room heads will turn, the diners eyes following the mammoth meat covered bone while the aroma lingers in the air, leaving guests salivating and signaling their servers so that they too can get a veal shank.
I have embraced this technique and we have used it in every place we have worked. On the Vineyard, the shank for two always sold out in a flash and this was the dead of summer. In Maine the shank was a saving grace, particularly when my father felt our food was a bit dainty. He ate the shank for two by himself. In Colorado we unveiled the shank for a few hunters who needed something a bit more sunstantial after a long day in the woods. We even used the shank as the meat course in a twelve course menu. The shank delivers.
Unfortunately these days roasted veal shanks and their prettied up sister, osso bucco, cost too much money. What was once a peasant dish has become an overly expensive luxury. All is not lost. If you look closely in the meat department or ask your butcher you will find the often glossed over veal breast. It turns out the veal breast and the shank have many wonderful similarities, save for the price tag. We have done plenty with veal breasts over the years although current conversations and inspirations triggered the idea of a slow roasted breast. I made a small incision in the breast and folded a flap of meat inside the bone and then tied it to hold the shape. Next I set the oven temperature and pulled out the cast iron pan. I seared the flesh of the breast and then flipped it so it sat on the bones and placed the meat in the oven. Then I just left it alone. As with the veal shanks, nothing really happens at first. This is not deep frying. After some time the fat started rendering out of the breast and we used it to baste the meat. About an hour after I put it in the oven I added some roughly cut mirepoix and a cut head of garlic. I stirred the vegetables in the fat and then placed the roasting breast on top of the vegetables. Back into the oven it went. As the aroma started to fill the kitchen I added some palatable white wine, a fair amount. As the wine hit the vegetables and released the fond in the pan, the aroma was breathtaking. We basted the meat and then the put it back in the oven. We repeat the ritual of adding wine and basting several times. After about four hours we pulled the meat from the oven to allow it to rest. Once the breast finished resting I moved it to a plate and then pressed the vegetables and the juices from the pan through a coarse sieve to create a sugo. I opted not to parade the veal breast through the house though Amaya was rightly impressed with the end result. We served the sliced breast on cheddar polenta with brown butter and lemon spinach and spooned the sugo on top. The sugo from this preparation deserves its own post and will get one soon. It was amazing and the sieving of the vegetables created a texture very different from the more traditional food mill.
Some may find a roast veal breast served this way a bit out of place in our cooking repetoire. When Ken first showed me the roasted veal shank I certainly thought it was out of place at Clio. How wrong I was then and how thankful I am now for such a meaningful lesson in cooking, and as it turned out, life.