I have a close friend who lives in Paris. She, like I, trained as a chef and knows how to cook. She’s raising her 16-year old son single handedly while she translates 6 days a week at Le Cordon Bleu where she works as many as 12 hours a day. Even though she comes home exhausted, she always provides a proper meal for her son: a proper French meal, with courses and a variety of dishes. We speak often on the phone–just about everyday–when it’s about 5 pm my time and 11 pm her time. I’m sipping on my first cocktail and she’s making or eating dinner. The process, for me, is slow torture. She starts out describing the products that are about to be cooked–things that we can’t find here like wild game, the best butter in the world, or fresh goose foie gras, and by the time she’s starting to cook, my stomach is growling.
Last night, she made blanquette de veau. A veal blanquette is somewhat like a veal stew except for a couple of things. First, the meat is poached rather than braised. The poaching liquid is then finished with a flour roux. Egg yolks are added to the thickened poaching liquid and the mixture slowly stirred until the egg yolks gently thicken it and turn it silky. Cream is then added. In traditional versions, mushrooms and pearl onions are included to go along with the meat. The blanquette is served with rice.
A blanquette is a pretty straightforward affair, but there are certain caveats and tips. In France, they call for the tendron which is a part of the breast and is, in fact, the least expensive cut of veal you can buy. In this country, I buy either a whole or half breast of veal, trim off the fat and gristle, and separate the meat from the bones. I then use the bones, along with some aromatic vegetables, to make a basic veal broth in which to poach the meat. This is important: blanch both the meat and the bones (not together) by putting them in a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a simmer, drain the meat or bones, and rinse with cold water. If you don’t follow through with this blanching process, the poaching liquid will be grey and taste like soap. Once the bones are blanched, make the broth. When the meat has been blanched, it is ready to be poached–usually for about 40 minutes–in the bone liquid.
Once the meat has been poached, you’ll be left with a very flavorful poaching liquid. This liquid can be reduced to intensify its flavor but, more typically, it is simply thickened with roux to give it the right consistency. Once the roux has been incorporated–or rather, the poaching liquid whisked into the roux–the liquid can be combined with egg yolks (traditionally about 8 per quart of liquid) and gently cooked over the stove (while stirring constantly) until the liquid takes on a silky consistency. Rhona then finishes this concoction with organic crème fraîche, cream of a quality we can’t get in this country. For some reason French cream tastes better than American cream, even American cream that’s been cultured into crème fraîche. They typically eat near midnight.