Blanquette de veau (veal stew) is what I call the mother of all French dishes. It’s the ultimate French home cooked meal, so traditional, bourgeois yet simple. Ever so often, when I go to the butcher, I have a natural inclination to say, ‘Michel, prepare me some veal for a little blanquette de veau please’. I like to have the necessary ingredients available at all times, because blanquette de veau is like family.
Too seldom on restaurant menus, this comforting stew with a creamy sauce is a grand classic. It holds a special place in my kitchen. There is no doubt that one of the secret ingredients to a good meal is a Proustian liaison. During the holidays, my grandmother would make this dish on Sunday nights, so soothing and heartwarming. The evenings would end with a card game called ‘Jeu des sept familles‘ along with a cup of camomile tea.
Blanquette is a stew consisting of light meat or seafood in a white sauce. Served with rice, tagliatelle or steamed potatoes, the sauce covers everything like the coziest blanket. The powerful cloves, just the four of them, play such an important role. They perfume the blanquette de veau and turn it into an unforgettable tasting stew. I once read that clove, originally cultivated in Indonesia, brings luck into the family home. No wonder this stew is one of our family’s favourite.
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
1 kg/ 2 & 1/2 pounds veal shoulder (cut into 5 cm/ 2 inch cubes)
2 carrots (sliced into chunky sticks)
2 leeks (sliced, white part only)
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves (sliced)
2 small shallots (sliced – keep one half full)
1 celery stalk (sliced)
250 g/ 1/2 pound white mushrooms
150 g/ 1/3 pound pearl onions (peeled)
4 tbsp white wine (optional)
30 g/ 2 tbsp butter (or olive oil, for frying the mushrooms)
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
For the bouquet garni:
A bunch of thyme
One bay leaf
A few sprigs of parsley
For the sauce:
A few squeezes of fresh lemon juice (half a lemon will do)
160 ml/ 2/3 cup crème fraîche
40 g/ 1/3 cup plain flour
60 g/ 1/4 cup butter
2 egg yolks
Chop the carrots into chunky sticks, coarsely slice the onion, shallots, leeks, celery and garlic. Keep half a shallot and stick the cloves in. Make a simple bouquet garni with a few springs of thyme, parsley and bay leaf (tie with some twine or wrap/ tie in cheesecloth).
Blanch the veal in boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes. Skim scum from surface. Add the onion, shallots, garlic, bouquet garni and all the other vegetables (as well as the half shallot with cloves). Add the wine. Bring to a soft boil for 2 minutes. Season with salt. Cover and cook on a low heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Remove all the meat, bouquet garni, vegetables and set aside. Cover to keep them warm.
Prepare a roux sauce. Melt butter in a small pan, add flour and stir continuously for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens. Pour the roux sauce into the blanquette pot. Mix well with a whisk and cook for 5 minutes on a low heat, until the stew sauce starts to slightly thicken. Return the meat and vegetables to the pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes on a low heat.
Slice mushrooms coarsely, peel the pearl onions, and fry together in 2 tbsp butter. Drizzle with lemon and let the juices reduce for 30 seconds. Add to the blanquette.
In a bowl, mix crème fraîche, a squeeze of lemon juice and whisk in the egg yolks. Add a ladle or two of the blanquette’s sauce, stir well and pour into the blanquette de veau. Do not boil or the egg and cream will curdle. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Serve immediately with rice.