The name of this dish really stretches the limits of my French ability (which isn’t saying much as I don’t speak French). I did try an online dictionary to translate blanquette which apparently is translated as blanquette in English (I know English is a strange language but I never really though blanquette was part of it; Firefox’s spellcheck hasn’t heard of it). Anyway, it’s basically a white stew.
The genesis of this dish (well, for me making it) stems from my love of veal. As a note to farmers, please confine cute baby cows to tiny cages in order that they may be slaughtered and I may feast on their succulent flesh. I have no qualms about the condition of the animals as long as they’re still tasty. Which is not entirely true but makes for good copy.
So, several months ago (at this point, “several months ago” can be construed as a bad sign) I was grocery shopping and happened to notice that there was veal blade steak for sale (not a cut of veal that the grocery store regularly sells; speaking of which, why is there such poor selection of veal and lamb at the average grocery store? I’ve never seen a veal roast of any type anywhere). Not only was it for sale, it was also no sale. So I grabbed the promised deliciousness, after all there was something I could make with it. Once it arrived home, it was put into refrigerator. And it waited. And waited. Until I realized that it was liable to go bad if I left it in there any longer. So, up to the freezer it went. And it waited. And waited. And waited. Realize that several months have passed at this point and it looks like it’s accumulating a significant amount of freezer burn (good thing I didn’t take any pictures of that or I’d be the laughing stock of the food blog world for weeks; or maybe not, there’s at least one advantage to not being popular). And of course I’ve realized by this point that I have no idea what to do with it. It’s shoulder meat which isn’t particularly tender but it’s sold as a steak which would imply that you should pan fry it and cook it quickly but the shoulder part says it should be braised. What to do? As you may assume, I decided to just let it relax in the freezer for awhile (it was kept comfortable by various chicken pieces, some pork chops, several pieces of pork butt, and some veal scallopini).
About a week ago, I decided that it was time to use up all that meat that have been lounging in the freezer for who knew how long (which resulted in the General Tso’s Chicken and the Chicken Pot Pie; I actually have some freezer room available now). On Friday I decided it was time to play my trump card and actually cook (and hopefully eat; it wouldn’t be the first time a meal I’ve made has been inedible) the veal.
Now, I’ve heard reference to blanquette de veau several times. I know it’s mentioned by Anthony Bourdain in at least one of his books (uh, the one full of short stories) and I know there’s a recipe for it in Les Halles Cookbook (oddly, Amazon is charging more for the paperback version than the hardback version). Of course, being a French classic dish means that it’s almost never served in a restaurant anymore (I think the only places that serve classic French are cruise ships and it’s a bit too exotic, or possibly expensive, for a cruise ship). I had no real clue as to what it was or what it tasted like but I figured it couldn’t be that bad. And when had Julia Child led me wrong?
From what I’ve read (it sounds like I’ve extensively researched this dish; I have not; I’ve just heard reference to it), it’s supposed to be in a white sauce. And it’s supposed to be pretty much completely white. Go look at the pictures I posted and determine if the sauce is white. Sure, it’s not brown by any means but it’s also not the whitest sauce ever (you should’ve seen it before the addition of the cream). And really, I’m okay with that. It all results from the fact that I make much more of a brown chicken stock than a white one. This is the first time I’ve had a recipe that really wanted a white stock and even then, I can’t imagine making it. You mean you want me to generate less flavor by not browning the meat and then you want me to make some Rube Goldberg-esque contraption involving a raft of egg whites? Just so the stock isn’t dark? I’m sure that will fly in a classical French brigade kitchen but I’ve got better things to do with my time than that. There’s, uh, Scrubs reruns to watch. That’s the ticket. So I just used the brown chicken stock I had in my freezer (I really don’t think the taste would’ve changed much).
So what’s my opinion of the dish? It’s, uh, different. I’m not used to eating boiled meats and the texture was different (it reminded me of corned beef which is usually boiled). The flavor of the sauce was quite good. The veal probably could of used being salted before being cooked; it seemed like it was missing some salt (there’s no instruction to salt the meat before cooking; is there a reason you wouldn’t want to do that with a dish like this?). Also, the original recipe includes an addition of parsley at the end. The green of the parsley just looked odd and the taste didn’t really mesh with the rest of the dish. I would vote for omitting it. If you want an adventure, go ahead and try it. It’s not as hard or complicated as it looks and you might just like it.
Blanquette de Veau à L’Ancienne
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 lbs. veal stew meat cut into 1″x1″ pieces (I used veal shoulder blade steak)
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1/2 an onion studded with 1 clove
1 half of a large carrot, peeled and cut into several pieces
a bouquet garni consisting of 1 stalk of celery, 4 parsley stems (with leaves removed), 1/2 bay leaf, and 2 thyme sprigs
9 small white onions
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp heavy cream
1 egg yolk
- In a dutch oven, place the veal and cover with water by 2 inches (you may want to season the veal with salt before this step). Simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the water and veal through a strainer. Rinse off the veal and clean out the dutch oven.
- Return the veal to the dutch oven and add the chicken stock to cover the veal by 1/2 inch. Bring the veal to a simmer. Skim any remaining scum from the surface. Once the scum has subsided, add the onion, carrot, and bouquet garni. Season the sauce lightly with salt. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and cook the veal at a simmer for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- While the veal is cooking, cook the onions: Peel the onions and cut a cross in the root end. Place the onions, a 1/4 cup of the stock from the cooking veal, 1/2 tbsp of butter, and a pinch of salt in a sauce pan. Cover and lightly simmer for 50 minutes.
- When the veal is finished cooking, pour the contents through a strainer into a bowl. Return the veal to the dutch oven and discard the vegetables. In a sauce pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter and then whisk in 1 tbsp of flour. Cook for 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in the stock from the veal and any remaining liquid from the onions once they have finished. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle the mushrooms with a few drops of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the sauce mixture and simmer for another 10 minutes. Check the seasoning of the sauce.
- Pour the sauce into the dutch oven with the veal. Add 1 tbsp of cream. Place the dutch oven over medium heat.
- In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk with 2 tbsp of cream. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot sauce from the dutch oven then add the mixture back into the dutch oven.
- Simmer the mixture for a few minutes to warm the contents.