Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 277 - Fried Herbs and Blanquette de Veau

Marcy is basically the star of this blog... Does anyone's face show up as much as hers? Good thing she's so pretty. :-)

Soup has become a staple in the meals I serve her, and even though I've already made the Winter Squash and Pear Soup, I didn't serve it to Marcy, so I thought I'd give it another shot with some slight variations. Instead of Kabocha, I used an Acorn squash. And instead of a Bosc pear, I used a D'Anjou. Let me tell you, that made for some significant differences! I don't know if one acorn squash is very different from the next, but this one was amazingly sweet. That, combined with a sweeter and juicier pear, made for a much sweeter and thinner end-product. This was a totally respectable soup, but I definitely preferred the Kabocha/Bosc version.

But what did this version have that the other one lacked?


Fried Herbs (p. 75)

I thought I'd knock out two soup garnishes at once, the other one being Fried Shallots. I mean, why heat up a potful of oil any more times that you absolutely have to?

Since the shallots can be refrigerated for two days and the herbs have to be used immediately, I'm serving the herbs tonight. (Shallots will be appearing soon.)

I thought sage would be a perfect flavor pairing with the squash, and I threw in some parsley too, just for the heck of it.

Frying is so tricky. The temperature of the oil was up, down, up, down. How does anyone do this without a thermometer? Most of the herbs went into very hot oil (300° or above), so they cooked very quickly, and as far as I could tell, successfully.

This high temperature frying really changes the intensity of the herbs' flavor. Eating a fresh sage leaf is a major flavor experience, but eating a fried sage leaf is quite a subtle one. The leaf is flaky and almost meltaway. Same with the parsley.

While this garnish definitely complemented the dish visually, I can't say that it made a huge impact, flavor-wise.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Blanquette de Veau (p. 207)

Convincing Marcy to eat Blanquette de Veau could be a longshot, but I was banking on the cold weather to endear her to the idea of eating this creamy veal stew. And it worked!

Blanquette de Veau is a classic French dish, and if I'm not mistaken, it was one that Julia Child introduced to the US. I'd already made Martha's Artichoke Heart, Fava Bean, and Pea interpretation of this classic dish, but now it was time to do the classic variation, itself.

The way that this recipe is presented in the book is slightly confusing, in that you have to go back and forth between the original and the variation to make sure you don't miss anything. Even with all my care in this department, I ultimately missed a step that I think would have elevated the dish even more. But I'll come back to that later.

For all the folderol, this is a very modest dish - chunks of veal, small button mushrooms, and pearl onions in a cream sauce, totally beige. The charm of it for me is in the flavor of the stock.

Unlike a typical stock where everything swims freely in the same pot, here the aromatics are wrapped up in a cheesecloth sachet. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that while the veal is getting blanched, it's throwing off a lot of foamy glop which needs to be skimmed away, and maybe containing everything else in the sachet makes that easier. In any case, the veal and sachet simmer in water for a while, then the veal is put aside, the sachet is disposed of, and the liquid is strained and becomes the base for the sauce, i.e. velouté.

When I first started cooking from this book, velouté was a somewhat foreign concept, only visited occasionally for gravies at Thanksgiving. But now that I've made them countless times for soups and various main dishes, I can truly say that I get velouté, and it's really not a big deal.

Peeling the pearl onions for this dish was a cute exercise, thanks to Martha's tips on page 31. Her trick for peeling them involves a quick blanch, ice bath, and then cutting of the root end and squeezing them out of their "shells." It's fun, and a little dangerous. They really fly out of there.

The peeled pearl onions and button mushrooms get sautéed while the velouté thickens (look at all those French words with accents!). There's an optional step here in the fava bean recipe which involves a liaison, i.e. adding egg yolk and cream to thicken the sauce even further. Because we were going the classic route, I thought I should go whole-hog, so I liaised. Once the sauce was done, the veal and vegetables went back in and were brought up to serving temperature.

Sadly, this is where I missed an important step. The last line of the fava bean recipe is "Add lemon juice and chopped dill or parsley to taste." I didn't realize that the lemon juice is part of the traditional Blanquette de Veau recipe. I thought it was just one of Martha's add-ins, like the favas and artichoke hearts.

But just now, I did some cross-checking with other people's recipes, and I see that there's always lemon juice added at the end. Ah well.

The sauce of this dish is really tasty. For some reason, maybe because it's white, it tastes like a chicken cream sauce to me, i.e. too delicately flavored to be a meat sauce. It reminds me of the best possible tasting sauce from a chicken pot pie. The veal is nicely tender, and the mushrooms and onions are cute and sweetly old-fashioned. (We don't see button mushrooms and pearl onions much anymore, do we?)

It's a perfect winter stew, and I think I executed it very effectively (even with the missing lemon juice), but I'd be hard-pressed to think of an occasion where I'd pull this out again.

Jeff: A- (missed the lemon juice)
Martha: A- (could have been a little more specific in the variation description, thereby helping me to avoid missing the lemon juice)

I thought it was worth mentioning that I made Glazed Radishes to serve with this meal. Cooking radishes was a novelty for me, and I was surprised that they came out well. They retained their crunch, but lost much of their heavy pepperiness. What was left was definitely root vegetable-like, but without the heaviness of a carrot or parsnip. Also interesting was what happened with the color. I used a bunch of classic round red radishes which were on the small side, so I left them whole. While they cooked, the color faded from the skins and drained into the cooking liquid. By the time they were done cooking, the glaze was cherry red, and the radishes were a pale pink. Cute. I should have halved them, because they were difficult to pin down and cut. The glaze had a salty/sweet/sour taste - it seemed like a sauce that couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be. This was an interesting experiment, but again, not sure if/when I'd ever revisit it.

Until we eat again....

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