Years ago, at the house of a friend’s parents, I was served a dish of chicken breast, mashed potato and sweet corn. When sweet corn is the most exciting thing on the plate, you have a fair idea that you are not in for a festival of taste sensations.
But now I am in France, I have discovered a dish that is held in great reverence by the French public. It is considered a classic of French cuisine. And it is white. The whole purpose of this dish is that it is devoid of as much colour as possible. Vibrancy is frowned upon. The success of this dish is judged on its whiteness as much as it is its taste. Do not be tempted to jazz it up a little with some garnish or some veg. Welcome its unsullied whiteness as you would a morning after a heavy snow fall. With wonder and joy. This is the world of Blanquette de Veau.
The Blanquette refers to the whiteness of the dish although, since the veal [for there is no denying that this is a dish of baby cow] is blanketed in a white sauce that there is hope for the etymological angle. But little real hope.
There is one thing more heretical to this dish than adding colour. That thing is its biggest secret and the French’s biggest fear. This dish is actually English. Yes. English. But don’t tell anyone. The French would get ever so upset and I will be living here for another couple of years. I like the French and I want them to still like me.
OK. The recipe. You will need, for around 4 people:
1.5 kg of fairly lean veal, chopped into large pieces about 2 inches square
350g of small white onions. If you can get grelots then great, but pearl onions are fine and I’m sure small shallots will do the job
350g white button mushrooms [don’t go messing and buying chestnut mushrooms]
A carrot or two
A stick of celery
An onion, peeled and studded with a couple of cloves
Some crème fraiche or some double cream [your decision based on how rich you want this]
An egg yolk
Juice of half a lemon
Some butter [OK, lots of butter]
Put the veal, the onion with cloves, the carrots, the celery and the bouquet garni in a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for a couple of hours. Skim off the scum from time to time.
Peel the little onions, clean the mushrooms and cover with water. Add a good tablespoon or two of butter and bring to the boil. Now cook until the water has evaporated. Be careful. Don’t let anything take on any colour!
Once the meat is tender [but don’t let it go too far] you are ready to finish the dish. Drain the meat, keeping the stock but throwing away the carrot, celery, onion and bouquet garni.
Make a roux [melted butter and flour, but you knew that] and add some of the stock from the meat pan, stirring continuously with a whisk to avoid getting any lumps. Keep adding stock until you have a nice thick sauce and all of the stock is used up. Now add the mushrooms, pearl onions, veal and cream and bring the whole beautiful mixture to the boil, and then simmer for a few minutes.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk with some of the hot sauce and then mix back into the pan, but don’t let it boil! Season with salt and [white] pepper. Add your lemon juice and then serve with some white rice [of course].