Nearly everyone describes comfort food in the same way — its flavors are mellow, it’s often pale in color, and it wraps the tongue in velvety smoothness. To the French, the ultimate comfort food is blanquette de veau, a well-behaved, even shy, cream-rich dish. Unlike its sturdier cousin, veal ragout, the meat is cooked in such a way that no browning occurs.
While veal is pricier than other cuts of beef, the blanquette can be made with stewing cuts such as veal shoulder or stomach. If cost is an issue, a greater percentage of the creamy sauce and a little less meat is just as delicious. Adding mushrooms adds a secondary meaty texture, and serving the blanquette on top of some steamed, fragrant jasmine or basmati rice helps a little veal go a long way.
Blanquette de veau begins with stewed veal then creates a baby blanket of tender taste with cream and egg yolk to which a butter and flour roux is added; some cooks prefer to use crème fraiche. While other stews and ragouts strut their stuff with strong flavors such as garlic, ginger, or a mixture of fresh herbs, this dish prefers the virtue of modesty. The simplest blanquette de veau might perfume its creamy jacket with the subtlest aroma of thyme.
For home cooks who think that, while a true blanquette would never draw attention to itself with loud layers of flavor, it can still sport a little individuality; there are ways to make it special without losing its status as a comfort food. Strongly flavored onions would not serve the blanquette well, but adding a leek or baby sweet onions can give the dish resonance. A couple of splashes of white wine is another flavor enhancer that won’t rob the blanquette of center stage. Textural interest with a mellow flavor twist can be achieved by mixing a few types of mushrooms, such as shitake, oyster, or button mushrooms.
There are a couple of tricks that will help a home cook create a truly French blanquette de veau. First, it’s important to cook the dish for a lengthy period of time over a relatively low heat. Second, using veal belly meat and stew bones enhances a long-cooking blanquette with a texture so velvety that it might bring diners to tears. This is because when the collagen breaks down, it smooths and thickens the sauce.
It’s comforting to know that blanquette de veal freezes beautifully in self-sealing freezer bags. The veal retains the best flavor and texture if as much air as possible is removed from the freezer bag either by squeezing it out or by sucking it out with a straw. It can be reheated in the microwave, although slowly and gently reheated on the stove top is preferred.