Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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A name derived from the Latin vitellus, a calf, via Norman French, means the flesh of calves, young cattle of the species Bos taurus. In Europe it is important in the cookery of the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, and (to some extent) Spain; but less so in Britain, and hardly at all in Russia.

The influence of immigrants has given veal some limited popularity in both N. and S. America, but this too varies by region. It has never been important in Middle Eastern or Asian countries.

How much distinction had been made between the flesh of calves and that of mature cattle in the remote past is unclear. By classical Roman times, however, veal was being prescribed in some recipes. Later, in the Middle Ages, there are enough references in France and England to show that it was known and appreciated; the 15th-century recipes in An Ordinance of Pottage (ed. Constance Hieatt, 1988), including one for Veal bucnade which Hieatt thinks more or less the same as the modern French recipe for Blanquette de veau à l’ancienne (see blanquette). The gelatinous stock obtained from calves’ feet was highly prized from early times—as it is now—for making jellies and gave rise to ‘veal glue’ in England in the 18th century, the precursor of the modern stock cube. However, the British, having adequate pasture for mature cattle, have generally been able to indulge their preference for beef.