Slow-Braised Lemon Veal with Leeks

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield: about



Appears in

Even if you had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, but did not send us manna from heaven, dayenu, it would have been enough.”

The rousing seder song “Dayenu” is about gratitude, but this ninth stanza might remind us that sometimes the Israelites, like us, were anything but appreciative. “Nothing but this manna to look at,” they kvetched, recalling with longing the slave food they ate: “The fish that we used to eat in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”

Throughout the Diaspora, Jews have created rituals to concretize the story of the Exodus: Iranian and Afghani Jews seem to bring home the themes of oppression, freedom, and redemption of this excerpt by beating each other with leeks on their backs and shoulders every time they sing the refrain “dayenu” beginning with that ninth verse. A symbol of the taskmasters’ whips and a potent reminder to appreciate our freedom, this fun custom, now adopted by many Ashkenazi families, too, is a highlight for adults and children alike. If leeks are too costly to provide one for each seder participant, use scallions instead.

Plentiful in the spring, fresh leeks also figure in many seder recipes. Here a hillock of them melt slowly with the braising veal to form a rich gravy. Since veal shoulder is so lean, there is no need to skim the fat: just puree the pan sauce and you’re good to go.

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  • 10 fat garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • About 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt
  • One 3½-pound boneless shoulder of veal, rolled and tied
  • About 4 large or 6 medium leeks
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Optional Accompaniment

  • lemon quarters


Prepare the flavor paste: process four of the garlic cloves, the parsley, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon salt in a blender or mini food processor to a coarse puree, stopping to stir down as necessary. Make a slit in the veal with the point of a small, sharp knife. Insert a little of the paste into the slit, using your fingers and the knife tip to push it in as far as possible. In the same way, insert some of the paste all over the top, bottom, and sides of the veal, spacing them out as evenly as you can, and slip the paste in between the rolled layers of the tied meat. (If you are tying the veal yourself, spread a little paste on the boned side of the meat before you roll and tie it.) Place the veal in a large, plastic resealable bag or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours, so the flavorings can penetrate the meat.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature, and pat it dry.

Wash and thinly slice enough white and pale green parts of the leeks to make 5 cups. Dry the leeks well, using a salad spinner or patting well with paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a heavy flameproof lidded casserole (oval enameled cast iron is ideal) just large enough to hold the meat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown it well on all sides. Transfer it to a platter and set aside.

Wipe out the pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and heat until hot. Add the leeks, salt generously, and stir to coat well. Cover the pan, turn heat down to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are tender and wilted, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the remaining 6 garlic cloves and 4 tablespoons lemon juice, and stir well. Sprinkle the veal with salt and pepper to taste on all sides. Place the veal in the pan and spoon some of the leek sauce over it. Cover tightly and oven-braise until fork-tender, about 1 hour and 45 minutes, turning every 15 to 20 minutes and basting with the leeks and pan juices. Transfer the veal to a cutting board and tent it loosely with foil.

Prepare the leek sauce: since the veal is quite lean, there is really no need to defat the gravy. Working in batches, if necessary, puree the braising mixture, including the leeks and garlic cloves, in a blender or food processor. If desired, return the pureed sauce to the pan to rewarm and reduce it slightly over high heat, uncovered. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. I like to add a drop or two of fresh lemon juice to the finished meat and sauce—more lemony than most diners, perhaps—so I serve the veal with lemon quarters.

Cut the veal into thin slices and arrange on a serving platter. Spoon some of the warm gravy all over the meat and pass the rest in a separate sauce boat.