Blanquette de Veau

Blanquette de Veau is a surefire springtime hit that's good whenever the weather isn't too oppressively hot. It's an easy stew to prepare, and it benefits from sitting overnight between the two phases. In the first, the meat is braised to tenderness; in the second, the braising liquid is converted into a béchamel sauce.

The classic French blanquette is a very basic dish, based on veal and onions alone. Whether she thought of herself or picked up the idea from, say, a clever German chef, Sheila Lukins published a souped up version in the first Silver Palate collection (page 134), adding carrots and dill. I don't think that I could ever do without these enhancements. They shout "Frühling!"

Begin by reading the entirety of this recipe and transcribing the basics onto a sheet of paper that you can tack onto the kitchen wall. Measure out a half-cup of flour into a small bowl. From this, extract three tablespoons of flour, putting them in another small bowl. Set aside the first bowl and to the second add a scant teaspoon of grated nutmeg, 1½ teaspoons of salt and pepper each. Have this ready. Heat the oven to 325º.

In a large dutch oven or casserole, melt a stick (eight ounces) of sweet butter. Add three pounds of cubed veal, and cook, moderately, stirring often until the cubes are uniformly grey. Neither the meat nor the butter is to be browned - that's what "blanquette" means. When the meat is cooked to this stage, sprinkle on the contents of the second small bowl - the one with the nutmeg - and stir it into the meat. Cook this rather pasty mess for five minutes.

If you're like me, you'll turn off the heat at this point and start slicing two bunches of fresh carrots and chopping two Vidalia onions. If you're not a hopeless spasmoticon like me, you'll have done this already, so that you'll be able to add the vegetables as soon as the five minutes of pasty mess is over. Having stirred them in nicely, add a large (48-ounce) can of chicken broth; this ought to cover the other ingredients. Top with four or five sprigs of dill - you're going to want to discard them, so don't chop them up! Cover the pot and slip it into the oven for ninety minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven and go to bed. At some point during the following afternoon, strain the stew. You'll want a big porcelain salad bowl and a colander for this. Wipe out the pot and melt four tablespoons of sweet butter in it. When the butter has melted, stir in the flour from the first small bowl and cook, stirring, for five minutes. Meanwhile, bring a cup of the broth to the boil, and, off the heat, add the broth to the roux. Stir until smooth, returning the pot to the fire, and gradually stir in the rest of the broth. Let it thicken nicely, as you would a hearty gravy, and add three-quarters of a cup of heavy cream. Now you can chop up dill to your heart's content. How much to add is a matter of choice, but try to avoid the stems. Keep the stew warm until serving.

How you serve Blanquette de Veau is entirely a matter of taste, but it ought to be accompanied by a starch. We prefer white rice; noodles are too slippery for the sauce, and potatoes are just too much. You can serve the starch alongside the stew on a sideboard, or you can plate the dish by filling the bottom of a rimmed soup-bowl with rice and topping it with the blanquette.

5. Gently spoon the batter into an angel food mold. Bake the cake for about fifty minutes.

6. When the cake springs back, it is done. Remove the mold from the oven and invert it until the cake has cooled. (April 2006)

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