Veal is a quite unique kind of meat that is not easily replaced and even when it is, it comes at the cost of sacrificing the original taste. However, some people can’t or do not want to eat veal for a variety of reasons and would gladly use an alternative.
Several of the most common kinds of meat available in grocery stores and butcher shops like pork, beef, and turkey can make a good substitute for veal, even if it’s important to consider the recipe before choosing the best alternative to veal.
The best substitutes for veal
Veal is well-known for having an intense flavor and for being quite expensive in comparison with other kinds of meat. It is also often considered controversial because of its origin.
In fact, veal is the meat from calves, which are young bovines. Calves can be as young as a few hours old when they’re slaughtered to obtain veal meat.
That’s because bovine meat remains tender and pink only up until 12 months of age. Afterward, it becomes red in color and it becomes what we know as beef. Most calves are slaughtered around 6-8 months of age.
Veal has a fine-grained texture, is very tender and it’s easy to digest. It also helps lower cholesterol and is a good source of vitamins (B1, D), minerals, proteins, and iron.
Since the window of opportunity for veal is so small and it’s such high-quality meat, it’s no wonder veal is more expensive than beef and also more sought-after.
In some countries, veal may be hard to find or even not be available at all. Many restaurants also swap other kinds of meat for veal in veal-centered recipes because they’re cheaper and easier to find.
We compiled the most popular alternatives for veal in the list below, ranking from best to worst, in order to help you find the right substitute for veal for your taste and recipes.
Pork is considered the best veal substitute, despite coming from a completely different species. The reason is that when looking for veal taste, pork meat is probably the closest to what authentic veal tastes like.
Pork has a mild but interesting taste, it’s juicy and tender and generally just closer to veal than beef. Although veal is definitely more tender overall, similar cuts from both animals are strikingly comparable.
Since pork is much cheaper than veal, it has become a very popular veal alternative even in restaurants. Some cuts of pork are closer to veal than others, including:
– Pork loin
– Pork belly
– Pork loin chops
– Pork sirloin
– Pork sirloin chops
Instead, pork shoulder chops and pork rib chops are relatively tougher than veal.
Veal is leaner than pork, but both veal and pork have generally lower fat content in comparison with beef, despite being part of the red meat family.
Since veal has less fat than pork, it also has fewer calories. For comparison, 100g of veal contains around 172kcal, while 100g of pork contains around 242kcal. However, both share a similar protein load, despite pork being slightly higher.
Depending on the recipe, you can lower the amount of fat in pork by cutting out the edges. For example, when cooking Wiener schnitzel, which usually requires veal, you can easily swap pork in by pounding the pork chop thin until the texture becomes similar to that of veal.
Pork generally has a stronger and typically “porkier” flavor than veal, so you cannot expect a perfect substitute. However, consider that most recipes feature sauces and other toppings, which are usually enough to smooth out the difference.
2. Chicken or Turkey
White meat is generally considered healthier than red meat, so even if veal is not quite red meat yet if you’re looking to improve your diet or cut out red meat, chicken and turkey are the best options to replace veal in recipes.
Chicken and turkey are often confused or mistaken for each other, but in terms of nutritional values, there are some noticeable differences. Let’s take into consideration the same amount (100 g) of veal, turkey, and chicken and their main nutrients:
– Fats: there are 7.56 g of fats in veal, very similar to the 7.43 g of turkey, while chicken has only 1.65 g of fats per 100 g.
– Proteins: veal takes the first place with 24.38 g, close behind is chicken with 23.2 g, while the turkey is slightly less rich in proteins with “only” 21.96 g.
– Calories: the 172 kcal of veal are similar to the 161 kcal of turkey, while chicken comes out as the low-cal option with only 114 kcal.
– Carbohydrates: if you’re looking for low-carb meals, all these three options are perfect because veal, chicken, and turkey contain 0 carbohydrates (of course, this refers to the raw cut and doesn’t consider batter, seasonings, and other additions).
It’s clear that chicken is the “diet” option, containing both fewer fats and fewer calories than the other two, but this is not necessarily a good thing if you’re not looking for that kind of downgrade.
The results when substituting veal with chicken or turkey may vary depending on the recipe and on personal taste. However, many people find that ground chicken and ground turkey are good ground veal substitutes.
You may be surprised to find beef in third place. After all, this kind of meat comes from bovines, which are nothing more than adult calves and it’s not uncommon to think they share many similarities.
Beef and veal do share similar nutrients and in similar quantities as well:
– Calories for 100 g: 179 g for veal, 170 g for beef.
– Vitamin B6 for 100 g: 0.306 mg for veal, 0.238 mg for beef.
– Vitamin B12 for 100 g: 0.99 mg for veal, 2.28 mg for beef.
– Zinc for 100 g: 3.37 mg for veal, 3.83 mg for beef.
However, compared to pork, chicken, and turkey, beef is not always the ideal replacement for veal. This is because the taste of beef varies greatly depending on the cut.
Beef texture can also be very different from cut to cut. Veal is usually tender, while beef can also be quite tough because a bovine’s muscles have developed much further than a calf’s.
Nonetheless, you can still swap veal with beef meat cuts that have a strong beefy flavor and tough texture by cooking them slowly until they resemble veal as much as possible.
When you consider replacing veal with beef, it all comes down to the meat cut requested by the recipe. Beef cuts that resemble veal taste the most include sirloin and fillet, particularly the latter.
4. Mixed ground meat
When it comes to ground meat, the rules of the game change drastically. In fact, meat that has been ground no longer tastes the same, so it’s a matter of finding the type of ground meat that tastes similar to veal.
As we mentioned before, ground turkey and chicken are good substitutes for ground veal. However, you can also mix more than one type of meat and obtain nice results.
It is not uncommon to mix 50:50 of pork and beef when you need to use ground meat for broth or other recipes. The same formula can work when you need to replace the ground veal.
In fact, ground pork maintains the tender texture of veal, while ground beef gives the mixture the typical beefy flavor. You will notice how this combination tastes incredibly similar to ground veal.
5. Lamb, goat, ox
In some countries, it’s common to substitute veal with lamb meat. However, lamb, goat, and ox are usually considered second-class veal replacements.
These cuts are generally less tender than veal and have a strong flavor that may overwhelm the outcome of your dish. However, you could try fixing the recipe by adding spicy ingredients or other seasonings.
As always, personal taste comes first and some people might find that they actually prefer a stronger flavor instead of the mild one of veal meat. Usually, it is not recommended to substitute veal with lamb, goat, or ox if there are other options available.
How to choose a veal substitute.
When choosing a veal substitute, it’s fundamental to take into consideration two things:
– Recipe: this is what will guide you through the jungle of the veal replacements. Not all cuts of meat are the same, even when they come from the same animal. In some cases, an animal may have some cuts that are perfect substitutes for veal and others that shouldn’t be taken into consideration. Also, different cuts match different recipes. When you choose your veal substitute, always start with the recipe you have in mind.
– Your guests’ preference: there have been cases of restaurants that were sued for replacing veal with other animals and withholding the information from customers. In some religions, certain animals like pork or bovines are considered sacred and cannot be eaten. Some people might also avoid certain kinds of meat because of moral reasons or other personal preferences. When you’re cooking for someone else, make sure to ask beforehand if there’s any kind of meat they cannot eat.
Tips to buy and store fresh meat.
When buying meat, always prefer your local butcher shop to big grocery stores because your butcher usually has the freshest meat and can also give you useful tips.
If you have to buy from the store, make sure to check the firmness, color, storage, and package of the meat. Don’t buy meat that doesn’t have a normal pink/red shade or has a slimy layer on it, because it means it’s not fresh.
Meat should be consumed quickly or stored properly. If you’re planning on cooking it the same day you bought it, you can place it in the fridge, where it can last 3-5 days.
Otherwise, remember to store it in the freezer, but mind that the quality of the meat will nonetheless decrease over time, so do not wait too long before cooking it.