Blanquette de Veau (French Veal Ragout)
Preparation and cooking time: ~2 hours
I should mention before I begin that I’m not really a fan of unethical food. I try to buy free-range meat, I always buy organic, free-range eggs (and am thankful that I live in a part of the world where those terms and their usage is actually regulated, as opposed to some countries where any egg company can print “Organic farm fresh” on a box, no matter what the condition of, or the feed given to, the hens). I shun foie gras (though I tried it once and feel dirty for saying it was so delicious), and up to this point I’ve gone through most of my life without eating veal. I don’t know the precise ins and outs of calf-rearing, but I do know that in recent years conditions have improved a fair bit. The use of crates is now banned in Europe since 2005 – with the exception of Switzerland, interestingly enough – and for an industry as closely linked to milk production as veal is I do feel it’s a least a little hypocritical to consume one and refuse the other.
In any event – this isn’t supposed to be a post about the ethics behind the meat industry. Today I’m going to be making a blanquette de veau, known in English perhaps as a veal ragout, but it loses some of the charm of the name in translation I feel. One of the most important things in a blanquette is that the meat is not browned – at all. Many dishes start off with searing the meat on the edges, locking in the flavour, but there’s none of that here. The veal is boiled to create a stock, which is then thickened with a roux and a liaison of cream and egg yolk.
The result? Comfort food, French style! Pretty much everyone has had a blanquette de veau in France, and it seems that pretty much everyone loves it too. If you can’t get your hands on veal then apparently you can use any other white meat – rabbit, chicken, pork, or even lamb (according to Wikipedia, though I wasn’t aware lamb was a “white” meat).
I was very pleased to finally try this dish. The flavours were mild, and at first it seemed perhaps too mild, but after a few mouthfuls I realised that actually, that is no problem. These days, we’re so used to eating things which are heavily flavoured and spiced, sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the basic flavours for what they are – meat, a delicately flavoured, deliciously smooth sauce, mushrooms and carrots. I also learned a lot about sauces from this endeavour as well. It’s quite an involved dish – it took me no small amount of time to prepare, but it’s the kind of dish which teaches you several core concepts commonly used in traditional French cookery.
I wanted to write a little about the history of this dish as well because this dish is seriously old-school – it’s been around for a long, long time, but a search yielded a great deal of information on “variations” of the dish, but not a great deal of concrete history, so – sorry about that. If anyone does know any history about the dish do please let me know and I’ll update the post here.
Anyway – I hope you get a chance to give it a try. I’ve made a few adjustments and modifications – hopefully for any blanquette aficionados out there it’s still relatively true to form. I’ll be back in a few days with something sweet! As they say here: “À plus”.
Blanquette de Veau
Translated and adapted from original recipe here
For the blanquette
- 1kg of Veal (ideally shoulder or breast)
For the bouquet garni and stock flavouring
- 200g Carrots
- 2 sticks of Celery
- 2 small Leeks
- A few sprigs of Thyme
- 3 Bay Leaves
- A small handful of fresh Parsley
- 1 large Onion
- 3 cloves of Garlic
For the roux
- 60g Butter
- 60g Plain Flour
For the garnish
- 250g Mushrooms (I used Oyster Mushrooms)
- 250g Shallots
- 60g Butter, divided into 2x 30g blocks
- 1tbsp Sugar
- Juice from half a lemon
- 50ml Water
For the “liaison”
- 100ml Cream
- 2 Egg Yolks
You’ll also need
- Rice, for serving
- Start off by trimming away any hard fat away from the veal and slice it into good-sized pieces, about the size of 2 large mouthfuls. Place the veal into a large pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes, and remove any scum which forms at the surface with the aid of a slotted spoon. After the 5 minutes has elapsed, drain and discard the water and rinse the meat thoroughly in clean, cold water.
- Next prepare the bouquet garni and stock flavouring. Trim the ends from the leeks, so only the white bottoms remain. Remove the outer layer and slice down the middle, then rinse under running water to clean them. Trim the celery, and then peel the onion, garlic and carrots. Using kitchen twine, bind the leeks, celery, parsley, thyme and bay leaves tightly together. Cut the cloves of garlic in half, the onion into quarters and slice the carrots into bite-sized chunks.
- Place the veal into a large pan with a lid. Cover with water, so the water is 3cm above the level of the veal, add a little salt and then bring to the boil. Add in the previously prepared bouquet garni and vegetables, reduce the heat and cover. Cook for 50 minutes while you start to make the sauce.
- Prepare the roux by melting the butter gently in a pan and then pouring in the flour. Whisk rapidly for several minutes over a medium heat to allow the roux to brown gently. This will give the final sauce the delicate colour, as well as ensuring the sauce won’t have an uncooked flour flavour. Once the roux has browned, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Next we’ll prepare the vegetables for the garnish. Peel and chop the shallots coarsely, and wipe the mushrooms clean and chop them into chunks. In a frying pan melt 30g of the butter, add in the onions, the sugar, a little salt and about 1/3 of the water. Stir well and cook through until the water has evaporated. Remove the onions and set aside, and then melt the remaining butter with the rest of the water, the lemon juice, and a litle salt. Add in the mushrooms and cook over a high heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, before removing and setting aside.
- Once the veal and stock has cooked for 50 minutes take out the veal and carrots from the pan and set aside. Discard the onion, garlic and bouquet garni from the stock and measure out about 1 litre of the liquid. You can either discard or save the rest for use at a later date. Pass the stock through a sieve or conical strainer and add into the roux. Place the pan onto the stove and whisk well while you bring the sauce (called a “velouté”) to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow the velouté to cook gently for 10 minutes.
- Next we’ll prepare the liaison – the thickener for the sauce. Whisk together the cream and egg yolks. Remove the sauce (velouté) from the heat and then gently whisk the liaison into the velouté. Return the sauce to the heat and bring to the boil for a few seconds to thicken. At this point, taste the sauce and season to your taste with salt and pepper. Add the carrots, mushrooms, onions and veal into the sauce.
- Heat the pan through gently and your meal is now ready. Serve with rice, top with a little parsley, and enjoy!