Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paris, the 20’s and the Sauces Series’ Voluptuous Velouté in Blanquette de Veau

Brassai Lovers in a Bistro

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”  ERNEST HEMINGWAY

When I was in college, I had a professor who shared the concept of archetypal myths with us.  These are stories that are literally bred in the human bone.  They exist in all times and all countries in our mythologies and our literature and art.  Most plots can be distilled to just a few of these core myths like the quest myth, the hero myth or the sick king myth.  Some of these myths resonate within each of us more than others.

For me, I guess the archetype that draws me most powerfully is what I think of as the magic portal myth.  The idea exists in The Wizard of Oz (flying house and ruby slippers), Alice Through the Looking Glass (a mirror), Harry Potter (the train station), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the wardrobe) –– even one of my favorite Twilight Zone Episodes about the over-stressed executive who longs for an idyllic community he sees as he rides on a train in “A Stop at Willoughby” (also one of Rod Serlings favorites) is a dream of a magic portal.

I have always loved the idea of having the power to go to a magical place and it seems so have we all through our history –– by clicking our heels or finding doors that no others can see –– magical places like Paris in the 1920’s (if you want a color view of early 20th century Paris,visit HERE, it's incredible).

 Woody Allen embraced the myth when he made Midnight in Paris.  

The time-machine car in Midnight in Paris (a 1928 Peugeot Landaulet 184)

His leading man, a blocked writer named Gil Pender, comes upon a magic car that appears on a quiet Paris street at the stroke of midnight to deliver him to 1920’s Paris and fulfill a Paris dream that so many of us have –– to meet Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Picasso and Gertrude Stein/Alice B Toklas and Dali and Man Ray and… you get the idea.   Hemingway becomes his spirit-guide in the enchanted land of 1920’s Paris.  What’s not to love about this story –– where is that car?

Ernest Hemingway (played by the surprising Corey Stoll)

The Fitzgeralds

Hemingway and Gertrude Stein

Man Ray and Dali (notice they are drinking Haut Brion? So much for starving artists)

 It shouldn't come as a shock that one of the biggest reasons I went to Paris in my youth was because I wanted to inhale the Paris of the Lost Generation  with the Le Jazz Hot soundtrack playing in my head (and it was only in my head –– this was before ipods).  

If I may say, Woody Allen is right.  The best time to feel the ghost of 20’s Paris is late at night on the small streets when modern Paris has gone to bed.  In that soft dark you can conjure the café on the Place St.-Michel that opens Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, the café where he sees a girl sitting alone at a table, “with a face as fresh as a newly minted coin” and he writes: “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought.  You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” Paris is unique for that –– on that first visit you claim your own Paris and it stays with you.

On my first visit, I hit the cafés to start my immersion into the world of the 20’s.  I went to Les Deux Magots, Brasserie Lippe, Café du Dôme, La Rotunde, Café de Flore, Le Select, La Closerie des Lilas, La Coupole, Harry’s Bar and the Dingo Bar (now Auberge de Venise –– where Hemingway first met Fitzgerald).  

As a student without deep pockets, I mostly drank wine and snacked on sausage plates with my little bag of Paris-centric books as my constant companion –– but I wanted to try an iconic dish and decided on the very exotic sounding Blanquette de Veau. I have no idea where the dish entered my brain as a 20’s favorite, but it sounded flirtatious and comforting at the same time. 

A small copper pot arrived at the table and the lid was removed.  What was there was not flirtatious or sexy.  It was a floury mess of grisly meat.  It was a serious letdown.  I knew even then it was a drab, going-through-the-motions version of what should be a great dish. Although I knew nothing about food at that point  (it was BIC – Before I Cooked), I certainly knew it was ghastly.  Hemingway would have thrown it on the floor –– god only knows what Alice B Toklas would have done –– from what I know of her now, her version would have been celestial (read more about her great cooking HERE and HERE).

Now, so many years later, I decided I wanted to tackle it (after watching Midnight in Paris AGAIN) as part of my sauces series because it is made with one of Carême’s classic mother sauces –– allemande –– a velouté  with the addition of egg and cream and lemon (also called sauce blonde or sauce Parisienne) and because I knew it could be divine. 

I decided I would smite the bête noire of my memory of Blanquette de Veau ––  I didn’t want to have any trace of gristle –– so didn't use the shoulder and neck cuts that are the classic cuts used for the dish. To do this,  I got some remarkable veal tenderloin from D’Artagnan 

Now I know, you purists will say it is sacrilege to make Blanquette de Veau without stew meat.  To do it I had to make some changes since you wouldn’t want to cook tenderloin for an hour –– it would turn the veal pieces into hockey pucks and would be a waste of great meat.  I trimmed the beautiful tenderloins and cooked the trimmings and the vegetables for 1½ hours and added veal demi-glace for deep flavor instead of cooking the cubed meat for that long.  Then I strained the stock and cooked the veal at a very low heat for 15 minutes till it was medium rare (you need to heat it again so it can't be totally the way you want it during the first cooking step).  Although the dish does take some time, this method means that you can do the longest portion of the job (imbuing the stock with the extra flavors) well in advance and finish it just before serving.  

What is unusual about Blanquette de Veau is that you don’t brown anything –– not the meat or the mushrooms or the onions –– it should be pale and luxurious –– sort of a satin and velvet gown instead of flannel pajamas.

When made well this dish has every quality of the voluptuous meal it has every right to be.  It was elegant and, yes, voluptuous –– full of delicate flavors and a velvet-textured sauce with down pillows of meat.  WOW –– that's how my Paris tastes.  Now if I could just find that 1928 Peugeot...

 Blanquette de Veau à l'ancienne made with Veal Tenderloin (with some tips from Julia Child) serves 6-8

D’Artagnan veal tenderloin (that you can get HERE), about 2 ½ lbs., trimmed and cut into cubes and thoroughly rinsed before and after trimming **(or veal stew meat or veal cheeks)
1 pint pearl onions, peeled
2 T butter
6 c stock (veal or chicken)
Bouquet garni: 1 thyme sprig, 1 bay leaf, parsley stems, 6 peppercorns, 2 cloves garlic, sliced and 3 cloves tied in cheesecloth or loose
1 celery stalk cut into sticks
1 large carrots, peeled & cut into thick sticks
1 small leek, sliced in half in 4” pieces
1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons flour
2 T vermouth
2 T Cognac
1 container veal demi-glace from D’Artagnan the you can get HERE (or 1 cup of your own)

3 egg yolks
½ c heavy cream
2 c sliced mushrooms (I used a combination of crimini and shitake without stems but pure white mushrooms are the classic for this)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
minced fresh parsley
chopped yellow celery tops (optional)

Take the veal cuttings, vegetables, bouquet garni and stock and put in a large pot (a wide-mouthed enamel cast iron pan is perfect).  Heat it and simmer on medium-low for 1½ hours, skimming and checking as you go.
While you are doing this, take ½ c of the stock from the pan and 2 T butter and simmer the onions covered for 10 minutes.  When they are nearly done remove the cover and reduce the liquid till it is syrupy.  Remove and reserve the onions and the glaze.
After 1 ½ hours, strain the stock, pressing on the solids and then discard the vegetables and meat bits. Add the demi-glace to the stock.  You should have around 4 cups.   You can do all of this the day before so that the dish comes together quickly before the meal.
Rinse the veal cubes again and add to the stock*.  Cook for about 15 minutes over very low heat… barely a simmer.  Check it –– you want it medium rare (you will need to heat it again when you add the egg and cream, that's when you will finish cooking the veal).
When it’s done, remove the meat and strain the broth over a fine mesh.  Reserve 3¼ cup of the stock for the velouté.  Clean out the pan and place the meat and onions with the glaze in it.  Cover (you can do this the day before too, but I think veal is best the day it is cooked –– you can do the rest of the recipe earlier in the day and heat it gently if you would like –– Dr Lostpast reheated left-overs in the microwave successfully too).
Melt 4 T butter slowly, then add the flour and stir it in –– let it cook for a few minutes but do not let it brown.  Slowly add the stock, whisking. Add vermouth and cognac. Cook it over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add the sliced mushrooms tossed in the lemon juice and cook for another 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft.  This cooking is what helps give the sauce the beautiful texture… don’t rush it. 
Remove 1 cup of the sauce without the mushrooms.  Whisk the egg yolks and cream together and add the reserved hot velouté.
Add this to the meat and onions and cook over a low heat, stirring gently.  Do not let it boil.  Keep the sauce below 180º or the egg will curdle (using a wide-mouthed casserole makes this easy). Just for the heck of it I checked the temperature of the veal cubes –– they seemed to be around 145º –– perfect medium.
When everything is heated though taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed, serve with noodles, rice or potatoes.  Sprinkle with parsley and celery tops (I love the flavor of celery tops, originally, they were what was used and the bottoms were tossed!).
* There are those who do not like the gray scum that veal can generate.  If that bothers you, put the veal in a skillet and cover with water.  Bring to a low boil for 2 minutes and then strain and rinse the veal.   I did not do this step since I was more into the texture and the cloudy stock didn’t seem important in the velouté.

** Alisha at D'Artagnan said she made this dish with veal cheeks.  I read up on them and found that about 4 pounds cleaned of silverskin would give you about the right amount.  They would cook for a few hours till tender (it may be 4 or 5 hours on a slow heat). Of course you can use veal stew meat –– that is the classic meat used in the dish.  Trim 2 1/2 lbs of it and cook it for at least a few hours till tender at a low heat -- high heat makes the meat tough. You would skip my additional step of discarding the trimmings. Do still remove the meat and strain the vegetables from the broth.  Then proceed with the mushrooms, onions etc. and making the sauce.

My great friend, August Ventura (who I wrote about HERE) is hard at work completing his passion project just in time for Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday.  It is a provocative and entertaining documentary about the unique opera culture that exists in that culinary capital of Italy, Parma.

Click to see the wonderful 22-minute promo reel HERE   
or visit his website HERE   

I encourage all of you film or opera buffs, lovers of all things Italian, and champions of the cause of musical education to support "27" if you can.  Great passions should always be nurtured and supported, don't you think??

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Rhodesia said...

Huh, this came a day too late. I cooked veal last night, pity I had not just waited one more day. I will see if I can track down some more veal. Thanks for this and of course the interesting bits that go with it. Take Care Diane

pam said...

How have I not watched that movie?! Your veal does look delightfully heavenly.

Deana Sidney said...

I hear some of you are having trouble leaving comments... sorry about that. Seems to be working now....

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I haven't actually seen Midnight in Paris but I am rather obsessed with the portal myth-your list of films are among my absolute favourites and it is because I do believe that we can somehow get into another world-even now I do! :P

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

The dish looks and sounds wonderful! I love the satin and velvet gown image as well.

Nice way you worked the magic door in as well!

Willoughby is one of my favorite Sterling episodes as well - it was just broadcast here a few days ago and we watched it with the kids - educating the next generation. . .

Sarah said...

I had an updated this dish when I was in Paris a couple of years ago. I had never heard of it before and was surprised at it being white! It was served with a modern espuma or foam. Was delicious.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

That is a wonderful movie. I admit to watching it 2-3 times myself :) I never realized how wonderfully the cast matched the real people. It must have been such an amazing era to be alive.

The veal preparation reminds me a little of osso bucco. It looks delicious!

Barbara said...

What's not to love about that era? And the Fitzgeralds and the Murphys.
So many fabulous reads, no wonder you wanted to get there ASAP!
Delicious job with that heavenly dish, too. We can all live vicariously and in reality, savor your dish!

Chocolate Shavings said...

Now im craving blanquette de veau!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Lovely! I so want to go to Paris. I feel like I have been everywhere in Europe BUT Paris. I will make sure to not be amazed by every dish when I know it looks bad. :)

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What's not to love about that era? And the Fitzgeralds and the Murphys.
So many fabulous reads,

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