Veal breast is an inexpensive cut of meat from the chest and belly of a young calf which tends to be tough and fatty. Special cooking processes, such as braising or stewing, can render the breast more tender and flavorful. Cooks also frequently stuff this cut of meat or cook it as a confit. There are a variety of ways to produce this cut of meat as well. As with other cuts from young calves, veal breast production is sometimes considered to be cruel.
The breast is a cut that extends from just behind the forelegs to the lower ribs of the calf. When purchased at a butcher or supermarket, it may come with or without bones. Because it covers such a large area of the animal, veal breast contains both fatty and lean meat, tending to be tough and often comes with a layer of fat over must of the cut.
Stewing or braising breast of veal breaks down the connective tissue and tougher areas of meat, producing a more tender result. Braising involves cooking larger pieces of veal in stock or other flavorful liquid, while stewing uses smaller, more even pieces of meat. Both types of veal dishes usually include vegetables, such as onions, celery, and carrots.
Both bone-in and boneless veal breast can also be stuffed. Stuffing veal breast with bones involves cutting a pocket between the meat and the ribs, then filling it with stuffing and roasting the whole piece. Stuffing boneless cuts is a similar process, but the pocket should be cut between layers of muscle. Since veal is delicate and dries out easily, a damp stuffing keeps it moist during the roasting process.
Veal breast confit offers a way to soften and flavor the meat, as well as preserving it for later use. The meat must first be roasted alone at high heat for a short period. Then, broth, wine, vegetables, and seasonings are added to the pan, and the entire confit is cooked slowly at relatively low heat. The bones and connective tissue are removed from the warm veal, the braising liquid strained, and the remaining meat wrapped and pressed. Like other confits, veal breast can be eaten right away or stored in its own fat for several weeks in a cool place.
Farmers may produce veal cuts several different ways. Bob veal comes from very young calves, slaughtered at a few days old. Formula-fed veal calves are older and have very pale meat, while grain-fed calves have darker meat, which may be sold as calf instead of veal.
Many people choose not to eat veal as a result of how the meat is produced. Conventional veal production involves keeping calves in very small pens with little exercise and can be considered cruel. Alternatives include breast cuts from free-raised veal or “rose veal” calves, which receive better nutrition and more exercise.