BEETHOVEN – VEAL
“Stepping out of my carriage I entered the inn and found Beethoven, infuriated, on his way out, slamming the door behind him. After having brushed the dust off me I went to the house that was pointed out to me as his lodgings. His housekeeper told me that he had returned in a rage. I gave her my card. After a few minutes she came back and told me to come in. There I found the great man behind his writing desk. Beethoven told me that he was the unhappiest man in the world; he just came from the inn, where he had ordered a roast of veal, which he fancied, but there was none; – all this with a most serious and dark face.
Leaving him, I hasted back to Vienna in my carriage, immediately asked the son of my landlord if they had a veal roast ready, and on his affirmation had it laid on a platter, covered well and sent, without a word in writing, a man to Baden to bring it in my name to Beethoven. The next morning Beethoven came to me, kissed me and pressed me to his heart and said I was the best human being he had ever met; never had something made him so happy than this veal on the moment that he longed so much for it.”
So Maurice Schlesinger*, music publisher, remembers a visit to Beethoven in the spa town of Baden near Vienna, where the composer often stayed in the summer.
*Adolf Moritz Schlesinger (1798 – 1871) was the son of a German music publisher. In 1819 he visited Beethoven on behalf of his father. In 1821 he went on a business trip to Paris, where he called himself Maurice and founded his own publishing company, which introduced German music to the French public. Besides works by Beethoven, he published works of von Weber, Hummel, Haydn, and the first piano transcriptions of operas by Mozart. One of his employees was the young Richard Wagner, who wrote piano transcriptions for him. He was the model for the figure of Jacques Arnoux, the publisher, china manufacturer, speculator and womanizer in Flaubert’s novel “L’Éducation sentimentale”.
Veal -“Kälbernes”- was not only Beethoven’s favourite. Roasted or boiled, cold or warm, veal took -and takes- a prominent place in the huge repertoire of Viennese cuisine. In this case we may assume that the veal was cold. Baden is not that far from Vienna, but with a 2 horsepower carriage the 25-odd km. would still have taken about 2 to 2½ hours.
In Beethoven’s days, veal was eaten as young as possible. Meat of animals of six to eight months of age, as is nowadays common practice, would have been unacceptable. The meat had to be impeccably white, from a calf still drinking it’s mother’s milk, though at least 14 days old, otherwise it would be unpleasantly reddish and weak. In the inns in Beethoven’s time it could easily have been a whole leg of veal which was kept ready for the guests. The leg makes up about 40% of a half animal, so a leg of “bob veal” -as we would call it- would weigh about 16 kg., more than enough to satisfy a large number of growling stomachs. The leg was roasted on a skewer over open fire or in an oven under continuous basting with butter and fatty beef broth. The cookbooks also recommend to “spick” the meat, i.e. insert strips of bacon in it, which would benefit the “Wohlgesmack” greatly.
A whole leg is enough to serve an overcrowded orphanage. So, for four, we ask the butcher for a nice piece of about 1 kg. With that, we are going to make:
BEETHOVEN’S VEAL ROAST
1 kg. (2,2 lb) veal roast
salt and pepper
125 gr. (½ cup) butter
2 dl. (1 cup) fatty beef stock
If you want to lard the meat, cut 100 gr. (3½ oz.) of bacon into strips and stick them with the aid of a needle in the veal. Season it with pepper and leave it for an hour or so, to get to room temperature. You can also forget about the larding and simply season the meat with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF.
Grease a roasting tin with butter an place the meat in it. Melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan. Pour the hot butter over the meat and put it in the oven.
Baste the meat frequently with the juices in the pan. If the juices become brown, pour a few tablespoons of hot beef broth over the meat and continue basting. Occasionally add some of the fatty beef broth to the juices if it becomes too dry or too dark.
After 1½ hours you are done. Remove the meat from the tin and leave it to rest for fifteen minutes, loosely covered with foil. If you want it cold, like Beethoven, let it cool down to room temperature and don’t put it in the fridge.
If you want to serve the veal warm, you can make a sauce: spoon the excess fat out of the tin and put it on the stove. Deglaze it with a glass of white wine, bring it to a boil and let it boil rapidly until almost evaporated. Now pour in some beef broth and let it simmer at medium heat for five minutes. You can bind the sauce with lumps of ice-cold butter.