Allow me to introduce you to our friend Christopher, who you will remember from my last post about his stuffed tomatoes, or in French tomates farcies. This picture was taken one day when he and Meakin were having a little fun. Christopher and his wife Colette own the Utile, a small local grocery store with a butcher shop in the village of Maillane, about 7 kilometers north of Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
Maillane is the home of the French Nobel Prize winner and poet Frédéric Mistral. His home is right down the street from Christopher and Colette's shop.
Mistral was born in 1830 in Maillane and died in March of 1914. His father was a well-to-do farmer and Mistral himself was wealthy enough to live without following a profession. In 1854, along with several friends, Mistral dedicated himself to the rehabilitation of the Provencal life and language. His attempts to restore the Provençal language to its ancient position did not succeed, but his poetic genius gave it some enduring masterpieces, and he is considered one of the greatest poets of France. Many of the people of Provence, including Christopher and Colette, spoke in the charming old Provencal dialect. It was quite lovely.
Here is a peek inside Mistral’s home in Maillane. Photographing inside his home wasn’t allowed, so these pictures were taken from the beautiful book Living in Provence. His home was filled with awards and lovely reminders of his achievements. As you can see, Mistral and his wife lived quite well.
We became very fond of Colette and Christopher during our stay in Maillane. The week before we left we gave Collette an orchid as a gift for their kindness.
They were both very charming and took us under their wing and were so nice to us. Even considering the language barrier, we managed to visit about what everyone around the world visits with their friends about – the weather, politics, what vegetables are in season that day – those kinds of things. Hardly a day went by that we didn’t stop in their shop for our fresh vegetables, some meats and cheese, and of course a bottle of rosé wine. Many a night we dined on dishes prepare by Christopher. Here's a photo of Ris de veau that he made especially at our request. It was magnificent.
Here’s a peek inside his meat case. Sorry for the poor pictures. Overhead fluorescent lighting isn’t the best for taking photos, but you’ll get the idea.
Christopher is a 6th generation butcher and he’s shared his recipe for a blanquette de veau with us today. We brought this dish home many times during our stay, especially if we were having guests.
A blanquette de veau is a French veal stew in which neither the veal nor the butter is browned in the cooking process. When the meat and fat is cooked this way, it is called en blanquette. Blanquette has an important place in historical French cuisine and became a classic of bourgeois cooking. Because this is a classic “white stew,” it should not be served with any items that would add color.
I’m ashamed to say that the only picture that I have of Christopher’s blanquette de veau was taken when we had some left-over and I added a couple of more carrots to stretch it and garnished it with chopped parsley. Do not, and I repeat, do not do this. Blanquette de veau is supposed to be a white veal stew. By adding them, it took away the authenticity of the dish. It was a big mistake on my part. I apologize to Christopher as well and also thank him for sharing his recipe. Translating from French to English, even with help from translating programs, can be problematic. I’ve interpreted the translation to the best of my knowledge and abilities. If you prefer, here is a link to a metric conversion chart.
There is a step near the end of the recipe where you add a raw egg to some of the hot liquid from the veal that requires “tempering”. Tempering is a cooking term for what you do when you add a small amount of hot liquid to a cool liquid to prevent the cool liquid from cooking or setting. According to Linda’s Culinary Dictionary, the word temper means “to slowly bring up the temperature of a cold or room temperature ingredient by adding small amounts of a hot or boiling liquid. Adding the hot liquid gradually prevents the cool ingredient from cooking or setting.” Tempering is often called for in sauce making when you incorporate raw eggs into a hot dish.
Christopher’s Blanquette de Veau (Veal Blanquette)
1.2 kilos (approximately 2 ½ pounds) of calf (veal), cut into 1” chunks
1 glass of dry white wine (about 1 cup)
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into ½” slices
Salt and pepper
50 grams of butter, about 3 tablespoons
50 grams of all-purpose flour, about 3 tablespoons
1 bouquet garni, see cook’s notes
1 raw egg yolk
Place the pieces of meat in a cocotte (a fireproof casserole or a cast-iron Dutch oven) and cover with cold water. Add the onion, carrot and to the veal along with the bouquet garni and salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, the lower the heat, cover and let it bubble gently for about an hour. Remove the meat, vegetables and the bouquet garni to a strainer. Discard the bouquet garni, but cover the strained meat and vegetables and set aside. Separately, set aside the strained stock.
Wipe out the cocotte and return to medium heat to make a roux. Melt the butter in the pan, and then add flour and cook, whisking constantly until smooth and the mixture turns a light brown, about 2 minutes. Return the stock and bring to a boil; cook until thickened and slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Return veal and vegetables to sauce, and cook until thoroughly warmed through, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Place the egg yolk in a heatproof bowl and slowly add a ½ cup of the hot liquid from the cocotte. Whisk them together (this is called “tempering”), then add that mixture back into the hot liquid in the cocotte and simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Taste for seasonings and correct as necessary. The blanquette is now ready to serve. If desired, serve over white rice or white buttered noodles.
Cook’s notes: A bouquet garni a bundle of herbs usually tied together with string and mainly used to prepare soup, stock, and various stews. The bouquet is cooked with the other ingredients, but is removed prior to consumption. There is no generic recipe for bouquet garni, but most recipes include fresh thyme and a bay leaf. Depending on the recipe, the bouquet garni may also use fresh parsley, basil, burnet, chervil, rosemary, peppercorns and tarragon. For today’s recipe I would suggest sprigs of fresh thyme, fresh parsley and a bay leaf.
The carrot is added for flavor, not for color. If you prefer, you may discard it before serving.
The photo above is one of pretty flower shops in Maillane. The French love their flowers and this shop was quite busy every time we visited.