When, in Champagne for One (arguably the very best of Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels), a personal commitment prevents our narrator from enjoying one of Fritz’s spectacular meals, we’re left with a hint of what might have been:
Fritz was at the big table, spreading anchovy butter on shad roe.
“Cross me off for dinner,” I told him. “I’m doing my good deed for the year and getting it over with.”
He stopped spreading it to look at me. “That’s too bad. Veal birds in casserole. You know, with mushrooms and white wine.”
Fortunately for us, The Nero Wolfe Cookbook helps to recreate what Archie’s didn’t get to savor. Imagine that, we enjoy an advantage on the savvy, even indispensable, guide to Nero Wolfe’s eclectic brownstone.
After preparing Veal Birds in Casserole as Fritz Brenner, Nero Wolfe’s personal chef would have done, it’s obvious Archie made quite the sacrifice in foregoing it to eat dinner elsewhere. Even if that outside meal hadn’t led Archie to a murder scene, he would’ve been further ahead sticking with the Veal Birds.
Veal is relatively new to these pages, and it isn’t really a personal favorite, but in this dish it’s merely a vessel, both for the flavorful stuffing it contains as well as for the piquant sauce surrounding it. In fact, veal so readily accepts the essences accompanying it, it’s little more than a vehicle.
For one thing, there’s the sauce. Tomatoes, mushrooms and onions sautéed in butter then braised in a good white wine. The tomatoes’ tang and the onions’ bite enliven the mushrooms’ earthiness. Wine unifies them all and, like any good social lubricant, lets them all get along so nicely.
The real attraction, though, is the stuffing the veal surrounds. Bread crumbs, freshly-grated Parmesan, diced chicken, with fresh chives and oregano. The stuffing soaks up all the flavors in which it simmers, and filters them through its savory, herbal profile. Divine. Each bite surpasses the last.
Archie really would’ve enjoyed it, but apparently he had a murder to witness. As Fritz said, “Too bad.” It just leaves more for us.
Veal Birds in Casserole
- 8 thin slices of veal (*1)
- 1 cup chopped cooked chicken
- 1 tablespoon minced chives
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, minced (*2)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 18 button mushrooms (*3)
- 1/4 cup diced onions (*4)
- 1 and 1/4 cups white wine (*5)
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 4 leaves fresh basil
Make a stuffing by mixing the chicken, chives, bread crumbs, cheese, oregano, eggs, salt and pepper. Spread a little on each veal slice, then roll each slice. Tie with kitchen twine.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a broad pan, over medium heat. Sear the veal birds, turning them as necessary, until they are browned on all sides. Remove each bird from the pan as it is done.
After the birds are browned and removed, add the onion and mushrooms to the pan and brown them slightly. Add wine to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Add the tomatoes and basil; stir and simmer for 10 minutes.
Return the birds to the pan and baste them with the sauce. Cover the pan then transfer it to the oven to bake for 45 minutes.
1 – If available, buy veal scaloppini. This will save you from having to pound the veal flat later.
2 – If you can’t find fresh oregano, 1/4 teaspoon of the dried variety will do.
3 – I selected smaller crimini mushrooms, as they pair better with wine.
4 – Of course, I used a smaller shallot.
5 – Chardonnay worked well for this application.