Veal Fricassee (White Veal Stew)

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I’ve always been one to encourage cooking ‘seasonably’; that is, to cook with ingredients that are in season and create meals that are conducive to the current season or time of year. Our bodies naturally crave foods that are in season so it’s only fitting that we should cook according to what is readily available: hearty chili and stews with root vegetables in the cold Winter months, warm gratins in Autumn, strawberry shortcakes and asparagus salads in Spring and gazpacho, cold melon soups and fresh fruit cobblers with ice cream for the Summer months. Whatever the season, there is always an abundance of sun-kissed fruits, root vegetables and beautiful cuts of meat and poultry to satisfy our cravings.

The days are warming up now and it won’t be long before the dog days of summer are upon us. With the mercury rising, I was in search of a recipe that would satisfy my mood for something hearty without being overly heavy. I wanted to make something heavier than a soup but a stew seemed too dense and laden with tomatoes and vegetables. I skimmed the pages of an old recipe book which I have put together over the years (it’s actually a random collection of handwritten recipes that were developed and collected by my mum and I) and came across a stew that I haven’t made in years. The recipe was for a delicate white stew, called Veal Fricassee, with tender pieces of veal in a white broth of sorts.  

Fricassee [FRICK•a•see] is a classic French stew dish in which poultry or meat is first seared in fat, and then braised with liquid. The meat, however, is not braised according to the traditional technique of braising. The meat in a fricassee is not browned before the braising liquid is added. Instead, the meat is cooked in oil or fat but at a lower temperature, so that the meat stays white. This recipe is finished with a touch of cream to give it a beautiful white finish, but you can leave it out if you wish.

I had a late meeting with a client, so I left the stew and a fresh baguette on the counter for my husband with a little note saying “Enjoy! – please cover and return to fridge when done” When I arrived home, I found the dish by the sink with one lone piece of uneaten veal. The entire casserole dish was wiped clean! Clearly, he enjoyed  the stew more than I imagined he would. I had anticipated having some leftovers for the next day’s lunch, but alas, it was not to be. As I stood there in disbelief that he had consumed the entire dish of stew, my husband came down the stairs to greet me with the words, “What was that? It was so good! I think I ate too much” as he clutched his stomach for relief. I replied, “What’s with the one piece of veal?” gesturing toward the dish. “I literally couldn’t eat one more bite” he replied.  As I handled him a bottle of Perrier to settle his tummy, I was all smiles knowing how much he enjoyed the stew I so lovingly prepared. (I pushed the thought that he didn’t bother to leave any for me, out of my mind;)

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Osso Buco + Risotto alla Milanese (Braised Veal Shanks + Saffron Risotto)

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I’m staying true to my word and, once again, pushing the culinary envelope. When I started this blog, I promised to make seemingly complicated dishes more accessible to the masses, and, well, my hope is that this recipe will prove to do just that. If the likelihood of you tackling this recipe tonight is akin to you climbing Everest and returning by daybreak, let me assuage your concerns and remind you that never is a recipe so easy as when it is approached with an open mind…and explicit instructions. I’m treating you with kid gloves today and providing you with step-by-step…by step photos to walk you through the process of making this dish and the ever-dreaded task of making risotto. There’s a reason that risotto have never been successfully executed on 10+ seasons of Top Chef – it CAN be difficult. But with the right attitude and some TLC, your risotto will shine as bright as the smile you’ll be wearing after successfully tackling this. And I assure you that once you’ve learned to make dreamy risotto at home, you’ll never want to order it off a restaurant menu again.    

This isn’t a dish that can be made quickly. It requires love and attention and a slow cooking process. The cut of meat — veal shank — has connective tissue that runs around and through it so it requires slow braising to tenderize it. When it is fully cooked, the meat will literally fall apart — it is that tender. When I’m braising and slow-cooking, I always use a cast iron pot. Cast iron holds heat more effectively and re-radiates it. The heat is actively evened out and breaks the flow of what would otherwise be direct heat, redirecting it in a different path. I have two such pots that are dear to me. A bright orange one that I use almost daily and a deep blue one that is, admittedly, less loved and can be found somewhere deep in the recesses of my garage. If you don’t have a cast iron pot, you can most certainly braise in any large pot. 

So try this recipe tonight. There’s still a few hours before dinnertime to braise this incredibly tender and delicious stew and make this ethereally creamy risotto before the kids get home. I challenge you to expand your children’s palettes, dig deep to find your inner epicurean and give your family or dinner guests a break from the everyday to create a meal that is so good it should be renamed “the veal shank redemption”. You’ll thank me for it. Now, mangia, mangia!

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You’ll want to dredge each side of the veal shank with flour after seasoning it. The flour ensures that you get a nice sear on the meat for added flavour and also thickens the stew as it cooks. 

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