Monday 21 April 2008
Probably for ever, whiteness has been associated - in food, at least - with elegance, refinement, and luxury. White sugar and white bread in more modern times, white asparagus and white chicory before them, and all in unbroken descent from the blancmanges, syllabubs and marzipan creations of medieval and renaissance ages. I suppose the process of whitening food has always been associated in some way with removing the natural 'impurities' - although increasingly these days there would be schools of thought that go entirely in the opposite direction, and favour instead leaving the 'natural goodness' in (hence their equally baseless and irrational faith in brown eggs, wholemeal bread, and 'natural' pulses).
I've always thought of blanquettes as falling within this cultural tradition - not least from my belief that they invariably involved a stage of blanching in order to remove 'impurities' from the meat before the actual process of cooking was started. It appears not, though. In Larousse Gastronomique, mention is made of blanquettes of - amongst other things- fish, which would certainly not stand up well to the sort of blanching process one finds with blanquette de veau; LG places blanquettes very definitely at the 'refined' end of gastronomy, which fits with the earlier associations of white food with perceived luxury, but seems to accept that a blanquette is essentially a poached preparation of any white foodstuff, which is then served in a thick white sauce. I'm not entirely convinced that this isn't the sort of bastardisation of the language which should be treated with great caution - shades of the etymological slippage of things being cooked 'a la nage' (adjective) instead of being cooked 'in a nage' (which is, in fact, a non-existent noun) , which is designed particularly to make the Technical Department's hackles rise. However, I suppose at a certain point one needs to clamber free of the language and just get on with the cooking....
The success of this recipe depends entirely on the sauce. It is into this that all that wonderful flavour has gone during the cooking, and for the dish to work, you must make sure that the sauce is good and thick, and will coat the pieces of meat well - if your sauce just sits on the plate in a dispirited puddle, I'm afraid you've wasted your efforts!
Ingredients: 2.5 lbs Lamb (leg or shoulder, removed from the bone and cut into 1" cubes); 2 pints Chicken Stock; 1 teaspoon Salt; 1 large Onion (studded with a clove); 2 Carrots; 1 Leek; 1 Bouquet Garni; 12 Button Onions; 12 Button Mushrooms; 3 oz Butter; juice from one Lemon; 2 tablespoons of Flour; 2 Egg Yolks; 4 fl oz Cream.
1. Soak the pieces of Lamb overnight in water that has been acidulated with a little lemon juice (this is actually an optional step - soaking will leach the blood from the meat which will give you a whiter end result, and will make the flavour of the meat milder; if these two things don't bother you and you're in a hurry, go straight to step 2) . Drain the Lamb pieces and rinse them.
2. Place the Lamb pieces in a deep casserole; pour in enough stock to cover, then season with Salt & Ground Pepper and bring to the boil on the stove. Be ready to skim away any scum which rises to the surface with a slotted spoon, just as you would when making stock. Add the Onion, Carrots, Leek, and Bouquet Garni. Place the lid on the casserole and simmer for one and a half hours.
3. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, and blanch the Button Onions for three or four minutes until softened but still firm. Drain and put to one side
4. In a small sauté pan, melt 1 oz of the Butter, then squeeze in the juice from half the Lemon and simmer the Button Mushrooms in this mixture until lightly coloured. Put to one side.
5. As the Lamb finishes cooking, make a roux in a double boiler or zimmertopf: melt the remaining 2 oz of Butter; stir in the Flour, to make a paste; add 1 pint of the cooking liquid from the Lamb, and stir until everything is well amalgamated; leave to simmer for fifteen minutes or so, stirring from time to time, to ensure it thickens evenly; finally, off the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cream, and remaining Lemon Juice.
6. Drain the Lamb of ites remaining cooking liquid, and either clean the casserole before returning the lamb pieces to it, or else put them into an unused casserole. Strain the sauce over the meat, and add the Button Onions and Button Mushrooms. Stir to mix thoroughly, and keep warm in a 100 degree C oven, with the lid on the casserole, until ready to serve. Before serving, taste and adjust seasoning as appropriate.