The quality of beef varies considerably across Europe, so much that artisan production favours a slower approach to the raising and slaughtering of animals.
Traditional dishes made from beef cuts rely on good meat, to the extent that it is no longer expedient to dispose of bad meat in soups and stews, and especially in dishes that call for ground and minced meat.
The rule is that hindquarter cuts (fillet, flank, loin, round, rump, sirloin, silverside, steak, tranche) provide the best meat for fast cooking. Forequarter cuts (blade, brisket, chuck, neck, plate, rib, rolled rib, shin) are used for slow cooking.
Good beef should be well matured, firm to the touch, bright red, marbled and fat-scored, and give off a sweet aroma.
It should come from animals that have been allowed to graze on natural grasses and herbs, and have not been slaughtered at less than 36 months old, later if possible.
Ground and minced meat should be lean with a minimum of fat.
Stewing beef can come from the leg, neck and shank.
Beef for roasting will be fillet, loin, rolled rib and rump.
Steak meat generally will be sirloin.
Recipes that call for thin slices of meat to be fried, grilled or baked ideally should come from the much younger animal, which is the tradition in most central and southern European countries, especially in Italy.
This is veal, which comes from calves slaughtered between six and eleven months old, particularly from milk-fed, hormone-free animals. If they have been put on a special diet the veal will be of a high quality. It will be pinkish with white fat and smell milky.
Many of the classic traditional dishes of Europe are made with veal.
Escalopes, used in Cordon Bleu, Fleischgeschnetzeltes und Champignonrahnsause and Schnitzel, should come from the fillet, hind leg, loin, lower neck and rump, preferably the top end of the hind leg.
In south-eastern Europe and the Balkans veal is preferred in stews that require less cooking time.
The Portuguese take the quality of their beef very seriously, to the extent that it might be considered the best in Europe.
The Barrosa, Maronesa and Mirandesa breeds raised in the Barroso marshes produce a dark red meat that is succulent and tender, while beef from the Alentejana and Arouquesa breeds is perfect for the types of meat dishes the Portuguese covet.
One such dish is so popular it is attracting food lovers to the Madeira archipelago. Yet it is nothing more than skewered cubes of beef coated in crushed bay, garlic and sea salt grilled over hot embers.
Nothing less than mature loin meat cut into 4 cm cubes.
Nothing less than fresh garlic.
Nothing less than unblemished bay leaves.
Nothing less than flôr de sal.
And nothing less than a smokeless fire (or a hot grill)!
1 kg beef fillet/loin/sirloin, cubed 3 garlic bulbs, crushed 10 g flôr de sal or coarse sea salt 10 bay leaves, crushed Olive oil
Coat the cubes in the oil, followed by the bay and garlic. Pierce the cubes with a metal skewer or, if available, a sharp bay stick.
Spread the salt on a plate and roll the skewered meat in the salt.
Suspend the skewers over a hot fire, made with seasoned wood, or under a hot grill on a tray to collect the juices.
When the meat starts to brown, turn and repeat until a crust has formed, about ten minutes depending on the heat.
Shake off the salt, serve with a salad and piri piri sauce or with roasted vegetables.
Cordon Bleu, breaded veal steak with cheese and ham, is one of Switzerland’s iconic dishes, insanely popular with the Swiss since the mid-1900s.
Wrapping a thin slice of meat with cheese and ham is an idea that was developed in different regions of Europe at different times.
The Swiss generously don’t wish to claim it as one of their own, content to believe its beginnings are old, and varied.
One version suggests a Brig chef found his restaurant filled to the brim one lunchtime. With only enough meat to feed half the hungry hoards he improvised.
He cut a veal loin into sixty pieces, created a cheese and ham envelope, breaded and fried them, astounding the guests with this new dish.
Centuries later its popularity continues to increase, selling upwards of 10,000 tons each year in Switzerland, preserving its status as a blue ribbon food.
520 g (8 x 65 g) veal, topside of leg 4 slices (4 x 40 g) ham 4 slices (4 x 60 g) Emmenthal/Gruyère 60 g flour 100 g breadcrumbs 1 egg 15 ml clarified butter Salt, pinch Pepper, pinch 2 lemons, quartered
Preheat oven to 80°C.
Cut veal into eight equal pieces. Take a piece of cling film, place over a cutlet and with a baking roller flatten it, about 2-3mm thin, season with salt and pepper.
Cut ham and cheese into slices that will sit inside each cutlet, trimmed if necessary, they must not overlap. Top the filling with another cutlet, pound the edges together.
Brush with some of the beaten egg to complete the seal.
Gently dust each cutlet with flour, dip in egg and coat with breadcrumbs.
Brown in butter, four minutes each side, transfer to ovenproof dish keeping them separate, bake for 15 minutes.
Serve with French fries or boiled potatoes, green salad and two lemon wedges per person.
Always associated with Rome, this is another interpretation on the veal-ham theme, the sage an exquisite touch. Make sure the leaves are fresh and pale green young.
480 g veal, loin or lean piece 16 slices prosciutto 16 sage leaves 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground Butter, for frying Olive oil, for frying White wine, for finishing (optional)
Cut the veal into 30 g pieces, flatten, season and place one sage leaf on each piece.
Lay a slice of prosciutto on top of the veal, roll tightly and secure with a toothpick.
Melt the butter with the oil in a wide frying pan over a medium heat, sauté until each roll is golden brown.
For a different twist on veal rolls see Involtini di Vitello alla Milanese in Latvia.
Chef Dunand’s original creation for Napoleon Bonaparte after the battle of Marengo involved a jointed chicken fried in oil, finished in a sauce made with brandy, garlic, tomatoes and water.
Over the years the sauce became synonymous with sieved tomatoes, white wine replaced brandy, mushrooms and onions were added, and veal joined chicken as the choice of meat.
Cubes of shoulder veal flash-fried in hot oil and simmered in Marengo sauce give this dish a distinctive flavour.
1 kg veal, shoulder, cubed 500 g mushrooms, chopped 500 g tomato passata 450 g onions, chopped 400 ml water 125 ml olive oil, for frying 50 ml brandy/white wine 45 g flour 5 g fresh oregano, whole leaves 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground Mixed pepper, large pinch Salt, pinch
In a deep, wide saucepan fry onion in half of the oil, sauté over low heat until brown, about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour, add water, passata, seasonings and half of the oregano, reduce over a medium heat for 20 minutes, until the sauce is thick.
Brown veal in stages in remaining oil, add to sauce, deglaze pan with brandy or wine and add to sauce, cover, simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes.
Add mushrooms, cover again, cook for 15 minutes.
Cut remaining oregano, stir into sauce.
Pellegrino Artusi refers to a method where the anchovy, caper and tuna sauce that is the essential element of this cold dish becomes a marinade, infusing the sliced cooked veal with pungent flavours.
1 kg veal, rump, whole 3 carrots, peeled, whole 3 parsley roots, scrubbed, whole 3 stalks celery, whole 1 onion, peeled, whole 100 g tinned tuna, minced 2 lemons, juice 50 ml olive oil 25 g capers, minced 8 anchovy fillets 4 cloves 2 bay leaves Salt, large pinch Water, for cooking String, for tying
Make four deep cuts in the centre of the veal, push an anchovy into each one, tie meat together.
Stud onion with cloves.
Place the veal in a large saucepan with the bay leaves, carrots, celery, onion, parsley and salt, cover with sufficient water and bring to the boil.
Simmer covered for 45 minutes, until meat is tender, soft to the touch and not tough.
When the veal has cooled, untie the string and cut into thin slices.
Mince the remaining anchovies with the capers and tuna, pour in the lemon juice and olive oil to make a thin sauce. Use as much oil as necessary.
Serve the veal with the tuna sauce, with soft white bread.
Alternatively marinade the meat in the sauce for eight hours, bring up to room temperature, then serve.
Salsa Tonnata is another version of this sauce.
If Cordon Bleu is typically Swiss, Farshirovannaja Teljatina is typically Russian.
Stuffed veal dishes in Russia cross the gamut of traditional food.
This is a small loaf, made with an egg, garlic, minced meat and spinach stuffing.
1 kg veal, fillet 200 g pork mince 200 g spinach, whole leaves 200 ml vegetable stock 150 g beef mince 100 ml white wine 1 egg, beaten 2 cloves garlic, crushed, chopped 25 g black pepper, freshly ground Salt, large pinch Sunflower oil, for greasing String, for tying
Boil the spinach in sufficient water to cover until it wilts, about three minutes, leave to cool, then chop into a purée.
Preheat oven to 200°C.
Combine the minced meat in a bowl, work with hands until the fat begins to separate. Add garlic and spinach, stir in the egg, season.
Flatten veal into a long rectangular shape, spread with meat-spinach mixture, roll tightly and fasten with four ties.
Grind black pepper onto a clean work surface, roll loaf in the pepper until it is even coated.
Grease a baking tray, fill with stock and wine, place loaf in the liquid and bake for an hour.
Traditional Beef and Veal Dishes
Swiss Air-Dried Beef
Carbonnades Flamandes/Stoofvlees-Beef (Belguim, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands)
Jautienos Suktinukai (Lithuania)
Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding (England)