Wish Upon A Dish: Veal Piccata

November 4, 2010

Veal Piccata

Once again, I find myself, going down that avenue of dishes that people have been debating about the right way to prepare for many years. Each Italian Nonna has prepared for their family, what they think is the best Picatta ever.

Piccata is an Italian word. It is sometimes incorrectly spelled "picatta" or "pichotta."
In Italian it is used only in reference to a way of preparing food. When used in reference to a way of preparing food, particularly meat or fish, it means "sliced, sautéed, and served in a sauce containing lemon, butter, and spices, usually parsley." The best known dish of this sort (in the United States) is chicken piccata, using chicken, but the term originated and is most commonly used, in Italy, with veal (veal piccata).

In the United States it is usually served with a starch, such as pasta, polenta, or rice though in Italy this is almost never done as veal piccata is a "secondo" (entree) and would be served after the pasta (or other starch) course. It might instead be accompanied by a "contorno" or side-dish.

The use of olive oil instead of butter to saute the meat and the addition of white wine and/or capers is each a variation on the original preparation which is even more simply prepared, with thinly sliced lemons laid on top of the finished dish. The heat from the cutlet extracts the lemon oils, warms up the pulp and flavors the cutlet.

Piccata is actually a Milanese specialty; the term derives from picchiare, to hit or pound, and refers to the pounding of thin slices of meat to further flatten them out. According to Antonio Piccinardi, the meat traditionally used in preparing piccata is veal scallops, while the liquid traditionally added at the end of the cooking is Marsala (though now a Pinot Grigio is more popular), while the most common herb is parsley. He also says that there are many variations on the theme, both in terms of the meat used (chicken breast instead of veal, for example) and the seasonings added.

Restaurants across the country have now taken to adding artichoke hearts to the sauce to give diners a 'vegetable' with their meat.

I prefer, on the side, a simply prepared sauteed spinach with garlic oil, while The Nudge likes to sop up the sauce with a small nest of buttered angel hair pasta. Tonight I will be eating sauteed carrots with onions and butter.

My Veal Piccata
Makes 4 servings
* 4 slices of veal, from the top round
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 2 tablespoons EVOO
* salt & pepper
* flour, for dredging
* 1/2 cup dry white wine
* zest and juice from 1 lemon
* 1 tablespoon small capers, rinsed and drained
* chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, pound one scallop until you almost can see through it. Continue with each piece (I leave them in the wrap until they are all done and ready for seasoning and dredging.

In a dish bigger then the pounded scallops, add the flour and salt & pepper each scallop. Dredge each side of each scallop in the flour, patting to remove any excess.

Lay them on a platter (I actually use a paper plate).

Melt 1 tablespoon, each, butter & oil. When the bubbles subside, saute each scallop, on both sides for 1 minute.
Remove to a warmed oven and repeat with each piece, adding the other 2 tablespoons of butter & oil if needed.
Once all the meat is sauteed, in the same pan add the zest first, let it sizzle a few seconds, then add the juice. A few seconds later, add the white wine and then the capers. Taste for salt & pepper. As soon as it thickens slightly, pour over the cutlets and serve immediately with the chopped parsley. I have seen people add broth. I would just add a few drops of water. To me the broth adds an additional component you don't really want in a true piccata.

If you cook the pasta and saute the spinach while pounding the meat, you could quite conceivably put this meal on the table in 20 minutes.
The best thing you could do is measure out everything before starting and do not start the sauce part until everyone is seated at the table. The cutlets can be sauteed ahead of time and kept covered under foil. This is NOT a dish that can be made the day before.

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