This simple beef stew was one of the most exciting dishes I learned to make in my earliest days at culinary school. Why? Because it was the simplest of stews but one that, through care, resulted in a finished dish of extraordinary elegance. It was a dish that one of the early skills classes prepared for the graduation-day banquet, to which the Culinary Institute of America’s president, Ferdinand Metz, always came. And I was alerted to the fact that President Metz, a man greatly respected by the students, always looked forward to this dish in particular.
As I was a journalist just learning culinary craft, the information made a big impact. It said to me that a so-called peasant dish, a meat stew, could be four-star cooking. And, further, that four-star cooking did not mean truffles and foie gras or veal Orloff served tableside. Rather, it meant care. Care on the part of the cook (for instance, this recipe calls for blanching the veal first, so that the resulting sauce is free of impurities that meat can release when added raw to stock). That’s what blanquette de veau means to me, that it is the cook who determines whether or not a dish is four-star, not the dish itself, nor the ingredients that went into it.
Blanquette de veau also means a delicious dinner. My kids loved this dish when they were younger—and it was something that I could make on a weekday night provided I had some beef stock on hand. I hadn’t yet come up with the idea that you could make beef stock in an hour, but whenever I made traditional beef stock, I’d save some for this stew. I make this only if I have good stock on hand, but if you want to use store-bought broth, it will still be a good veal stew—and even better than good if you add some aromatics to the broth before or while you’re cooking the veal.
An additional enhancement to the stew is a miraculous little lever of richness and texture called a liaison, which is simply a mixture of cream and egg yolk. I don’t know exactly how it works, but this combination turns a regular sauce into something beguilingly smooth and delicious on the tongue. The liaison is stirred into the blanquette just before serving. (Be careful not to let the liquid boil after you’ve added the liaison, or the egg can cook and curdle.)
I like to serve the blanquette on buttered egg noodles, topped with a sprinkle of minced parsley to add some color. No matter how you finish it, this is a heavenly dish primarily because of the cook’s care.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the veal and allow the water to return to a boil. When the water has come to a boil and the foam from the meat has risen to the top, drain the meat and rinse under cold running water.
Put the veal in a
While the veal is cooking, melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat to start a roux. When it has melted completely (the idea is to cook off as much water as possible before adding the flour), add the flour and cook until the flour smells like pie crust, a couple of minutes. Set the roux aside to cool.
When the meat is tender, add the onions and mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions are tender. Whisk in the roux in increments, allowing the sauce to thicken until it is exactly as you like it. Add a squeeze of lemon (1 or 2 teaspoons) and more salt as needed.
In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and cream until they’re uniformly combined to make the liaison. Stir the liaison into the stew, then remove the pot from the heat.
Serve on buttered egg noodles, topped with a sprinkling of parsley.
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