Thursday, 7 November 2013

Something for the weekend – or midweek

A classic veal blanquette (not mine)
Veal is making a long overdue comeback, now that people realise that it’s not all raised in crates and that, if you use dairy, then it is an inevitable byproduct of farming that would otherwise be wasted – and the calf have no life at all.

So it’s the perfect opportunity to explore ways of cooking this delicate but tasty meat – and in ways other than as a wiener schnitzel.

Perfectly fitted for such a culinary experiment is the veal blanquette, a classic French ‘white stew’, where neither the meat nor the butter that it is sealed in are browned.

“Because this is a classic ‘white stew’ there is a prejudice to serving it with any items that would add color (ie carrots or peas),” claims Wikipedia.

Which is somewhat erroneous, given the recipes that exist by some exceptional chefs who presumably know.

In French Country Cooking, for instance, those culinary slouches, the Roux brothers, include quite a lot of vegetables. As does Joël Robuchon in The Complete Robuchon. And so too does Bruno Loubet, in the recently-published Mange Tout.

For Loubet in particular, there are carrots and lots of celery, together with the green part of a leek or two, plus chervil.

So even if you say that the traditional onion and button mushrooms are entirely in keeping with the whiteness, there’s still colour to be seen, and to be seen rather clearly.

It was Bruno’s book that inspired me to finally try a blanquette and indeed, this is not a fine dining restaurant dish for him, but something that his grandmother used to cook, while for the Rouxs, it’s packed with memories of their grandmother.

Not that it won’t have been served in some rarified culinary environs: Escoffier, somewhat predictably, provides more than a single recipe, while a look at Larousse Gastronomique reveals that there are several other blanquettes, including lamb and monkfish.

I used Bruno’s recipe to guide me, but I’m not going to detail that here, beyond saying that he uses lots of celery, because his grandmother did, and that if you can’t find chervil, flat-leaf parsley makes an entirely acceptable substitute.

I’ll say it now – if you’re looking to buy a cookbook for Christmas, I really do recommend Bruno’s book.

The monkfish version is much quicker, but as I’m not a believer in undercooking vegetables, this really means that you need to do it in two parts.

So, for my version of a monkfish blanquette

Heat some butter gently in a pan, and add chopped carrot, onion, garlic and celery, and let it all cook gently until the vegetables are softened, but without colouring.

Sprinkle a little plain flour over and stir to cook for about a minute, before starting to add chicken, fish or vegetable stock, little by little, until the sauce has stopped thickening quickly.

Pop a lid on and leave to gently cook for about 20 minutes or so, until the carrot is starting to get tender.

In the meantime, heat some more butter in another pan and seal your monkfish, which has been cut into pieces, but remembering not to colour.

When the carrot is starting to get tender, add the fish and some button mushrooms, pop the lid back on and give it around 12-15 minutes.

Check the fish is cooked. Check the seasoning and adjust if you need to.

Take it off the heat and stir in some really thick cream. Pop it back on the heat and allow everything to warm through thoroughly, before giving a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to just add a little edge.

Serve with plain or basmati rice to keep the white theme going – and to mop up the juices – and a garnish of chopped parsley if it takes your fancy.

And there you have it – a very simple blanquette that could also be done with any meaty piece of white fish, and which makes a hearty and healthy midweek dinner.

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