My friend Moira and I went to see Paris last weekend at the very worthy-of-your-time Cape Ann Community Cinema.
Oh Juliette Binoche! One of my favorite lines in the movie is when a flirtatious greengrocer asks her if she did her hair with dynamite that morning. That's French seduction for you!
I was in a Paris state of mind for days after, and when browsing through the book for our next dinner, this caught my eye:
Veal Stew with Lemon and Creme FraicheThe particulars of this recipe came to us from the novelist Diane Johnson, who wrote a piece for the magazine on how Parisian housewives cook.
Say no more! Perhaps my brother
will never perform a choreographed modern dance number at a party in his living room
but at least I could make stew like a Parisienne!
The head notes go on to explain that this is not your ordinary, throw-everything-into-a-pot-and-cook-it type of stew--first you cook the meat and take it out...then you cook the veggies in the meat water and take them out...then you reduce the stock and make an "exquisite sauce". Don't worry!! say the head notes. Not as complicated as it sounds!!
Taking these thing on faith, as I so often do, I trotted off to the market to buy my ingredients. Bone-in veal breast? Check. Boneless veal shoulder? Nuh-uh. I made do with "veal stew", which is stew meat, which for all I know might actually be cut from the shoulder.
Everything else is standard stew-y stuff if you put it in the realm of la France--a bouquet garnis, leeks, carrots, mushrooms--and non standard stew-y stuff, like lemons and creme fraiche. And egg yolks.
First you put the meat, bones, bouquet garnis and onions in the stew pot and let it cook up for a while. I was a little baffled by the veal breast. For one it was really fatty, and for two I mulled over how to cut it off the bone. I finally went for the "mango" approach:
And I cut those cubes off the bone. See what I mean about the fat? All of this went into a pot with onions and a bouquet garnis, which if you don't know are "aromatics" ie herbs, pepper and a bay leaf. Traditionally you bind it up with cheesecloth and string but I couldn't find either of those things in my kitchen so they were footloose and fancy free in my pot. Cover your eyes, Thomas Keller!
Purists will also note that I'm using curly parsley, not flat leaf. Well, curly parsley is growing in my neighbor's pot outside and I'm a cheap bastard (though not a parsley thief--she told me to use what I wanted!)
This all simmers for about an hour and a half, after which the meat comes out and goes in a low-medium oven. I was sort of hoping the fat would magically cook away, but it didn't. I tried one of the veal breast cubes to see if the flavor trumped the fat content, but it didn't. Alas!
So I spent a good 30 minutes picking the meat from the fat while the leeks and carrots simmered in the broth. Here's the pile of fat I had left over:
OK, next! The veggies come out and go to a serving dish, which for me meant in the oven with the meat. The broth is then supposed to be reduced to 2 1/2 cups, but mine was already there, so voilà!!
Mushrooms then get sauteed, which made me happy because I love mushrooms in soups and stews, especially if they've been sauteed first, which makes them heartier somehow. Sauteed mushroom in the oven with the leeks, carrots and meat!
To make the sauce, first one makes a roux (flour and butter, sauteed) and then whisks in the reduced stock. In a side bowl, mix 2 egg yolks with creme fraiche:
stir in a little hot broth, then whisk the tempered yolks/creme fraiche back into the big pot with the rest of the thickened stock:
Since I was making this stew at a somewhat more leisurely pace than the recipe suggests, it occurred to me just in the nick of time that the meat and veggies were probably actually COOKING in that 300 oven.
Oops! Hm. Well, the meat was a little crispy around the edges, but nothing inedible. And as with dry Thanksgiving turkey, nothing a little gravy can't cure! I mean, Lemon-Creme Fraiche Sauce.
Doesn't it look delicious? It was. But I can't really say I felt like I was eating stew, even while pretending I was Juliette Binoche, who may or may not cook her own dinners.
Would I make this exact recipe again? Perhaps not, but I certainly am interested in this technique, mostly because it makes great use of the stock to make a very sophisticated dinner out of nothing too fancy. Well, veal is pretty fancy but you could do this easily with any kind of meat or poultry. Give it a try next time you're longing for Paris!