Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blanquette de Veau

Veal is a by product of the dairy industry. For dairy cows to continue to produce milk they need to calve each year. Female calves are introduced into the dairy herd to allow the herd to grow and thrive but male calves are extraneous. Slaughtered young they provide a delicate meat that is widely used in French and Italian cooking in particular. They have often been, and in some countries still are, raised during their short lives in extremely cruel conditions crated into small wooden boxes and force fed milk substitute, denied both exercise and natural light as well as social interaction with other calves. If you don't know the provenance of the veal don't buy it.

Unsurpisingly studies have found carcasses of group-housed calves were heavier than those of crated calves and with higher average daily gain and feed conversion there is better carcass conformation and carcass tenderness, and better flavor than crated calves. The meat is not as pale but in fact consumers are not looking for 'white' veal - just meat that is high quality and delicately flavoured. It is well worth searching out the best - as with all your food - and you shall be well rewarded.

Blanquette de veau is a rustic french veal dish that has been around so long that it can rightly be considered a classic. It takes simple ingredients and methods and transforms them into something luscious and elegant and one of my favourite dishes of all time. There are many versions throuhgout France. This recipe comes from 'Goose Fat & Garlic' by Jeanne Strang, a book I bought after I'd spent some time in south west France and had gone in search of local recipes. Having used it to learn how to make perfect grilled magret and a rich daube this book has become one of my favourites.

Blanquette de Veau du Carcass├Ęs

800g/(1 3/4 lb) stewing veal
1 tbspn goose fat
150ml/1/4 pt) dry white wine
400ml (3/4 pt) water
1 onion stuck with 2 cloves
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 leek, cleaned and white part sliced
bouquet garni of thyme, bay, parsley and rosemary
salt, pepper, nutmeg
10-12 little onions or 3 medium sized ones
250g (1/2 lb) mushrooms, preferably girolles if you can afford them, or else something tasty
60g (2oz) butter
45g (1 1/2oz) butter plus 2 tbspns plain flour (for the roux)
2 egg yolks
2 tbspns double cream
juice of 1 lemon

Trim and cube the meat. Blanch it for a few seconds in boiling water, then drain it and plunge into cold water and then drain again.

Melt the goose fat in a casserole, add the blanched veal and stir to seal. Add the wine and water, onion with cloves, carrot, leek, bouquet garni and seasoning. Quarter the onions or, if you are using little pickling ones, blanch them whole, then add them to the meat. Bring the casserole to the boil slowly then gently simmer for an hour or so, until the meat is tender.
This is a perfect point to turn it off then cover, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. The flavour will develop beautifully.

Reheat the stew, then cook the mushrooms briefly in a little butter. Make a roux in a separate pan by melting the butter till just turning golden, stir in the flour and cook until it is biscuity in colour and aroma. Moisten it with about half a cup of veal stock from the casserole, stirring to make a smooth sauce. Bring the sauce to the boil then simmer very gently for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile beat up the egg yolks, cream and lemon juice in a bowl. When the sauce is ready stir a ladleful into the egg/cream/lemon mix and then tip the lot back into the sauce. Mix thoroughly and add to the casserole. Add the mushrooms and their juice and stir to incorporate. Check the seasoning then serve.

We had it on Sunday with plain steamed white rice and brussel sprouts and it was wonderful.

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