Blanquette de veau is a delicious, classic French dish with a real difference. I’ll admit though, I’d never really considered tackling it, because, at first look, it seems a bit complicated. But I recently hosted a book club at my house to discuss the book Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, a rich, evocative story laced with memories of classic French food. So of course, I had to plan a lavish French feast. For some reason, blanquette kept coming back to me as the perfect dish for this event. I thought about and analyzed many recipes, and came up with a version that, though it involves a few steps, is not really all that difficult. The biggest nod to simplicity I made was using frozen pearl onions. Fresh pearl onions can absolutely be used, but they are a bit of a nuisance to peel in my opinion.
Unlike most stews, the meat in blanquette is not browned, but blanched to preserve its pale color. The monochromatic palette and tangy crème fraiche sauce set this dish apart. The key to blanquette is a flavorful stock base. I use homemade stock made with lots of fresh flavors, and I really recommend that you do too, though if you must, a boxed stock is okay. Adding extra flavor to the cooking liquid is essential, and I love the addition of fennel and leek, which add a brightness to the stock.
So, plan an elegant spring dinner party. Your guests will be impressed, and you can pretend that you’ve been slaving for days to make a French classic. Traditionally this is served with rice, but I like it with steamed or roasted potatoes (the multi-colored small ones are pretty) and some glazed carrots.
Blanquette de Veau (Creamy Veal Stew)
4 pounds veal stew meat (or veal shoulder cut into cubes)
7 cups chicken stock
1 stalk celery
1 fennel bulb
1 small onion
4 whole cloves
2 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 (12-ounce) package frozen pearl onions, thawed
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup crème fraiche
Salt to taste
Chopped parsley to garnish
Fill a Dutch oven or oven safe casserole dish (I use a 5 quart enameled cast-iron pot) with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the veal pieces and blanch for 4 minutes, until the outside of the veal is sealed but it is not cooked through. Drain the meat in a colander and rinse it under cool water to remove any foam or scum. Rinse the pot and wipe out any brown bits and return the meat to the pot and pour over the chicken stock. Tuck in the carrot, celery, leek, halved fennel bulb and onions, stuck with the cloves into the pot. Tie the parsley, thyme and bay leaves together with a piece of twine and drop it in the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 ½ hours.
When the meat is tender, place the colander over a bowl and drain the meat, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Wipe out the cooking pot removing any browned bits. Pour 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid into the pot, add the pearl onions and cook over high heat until the liquid is almost totally evaporated, glazing the onions. Remove the onions to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe out the pot again to remove any brown bits. Pour in the remaining cooking liquid, bring to a boil and reduce to 2 cups.
Pour the reduced cooking liquid into a measuring jug and set aside. Wipe the pot clean again, then melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, cooking until thickened and pale in color. Whisk in the reserved cooking liquid and cook until smooth and thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the crème fraiche and stir until heated through. Salt to taste. Add the veal and onions and cook until the meat is heated through.
Serve immediately sprinkled with chopped parsley.