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.
A 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;)
Remember that the veal should not be browned. The white stew gets its name not only from its off-white stew base, but also the barely-seared pieces of veal which are never browned.
A bouquet garni is a French word that denotes a collection of herbs that are tied together and added to a pot to flavour a stew, soup or even broth. The herbs should be tied tightly with kitchen twine so that they don’t fall apart as the mixture boils and so they can be removed easily at the end of the cooking process.
Liaison is another French word which refers to a mixture of egg yolks and heavy cream that is used to thicken a sauce. The eggs are an essential component to the Fricassee, but the touch of cream, which is typically added to give the stew a softer whitish colour, is not completely essential, but is definitely encouraged. If you wish to forego the cream to cut calories, you’re more than welcome to do so and the dish will be equally delicious, but slightly less white and less traditional.
2 pounds veal, cut into 2 inch cubes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
5 tablespoons butter, divided
14-18 small pearl onions or 1 large onion
8 ounces white button mushrooms
1 large carrot
2 tablespoons flour
7 cups beef broth (or water with 1 beef bouillon cube)
1 bouquet garni of fresh rosemary and thyme
1 teaspoon (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
salt and pepper, to taste (if necessary)
Prepare the stew: Wash the veal pieces, and then pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the pieces of meat with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with the oil in a large cast iron pot over medium heat. Add half of the veal pieces and cook for 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally. Sweat the meat but do not brown it. Remove the cooked pieces of veal from the pot and set aside. Warm 2 more tablespoons of butter in the pot and add the remaining pieces of veal. Cook for 4-5 minutes then remove from pot and set aside. (Always cook the meat in two batches so as not to overcrowd the pot.) Dice the onions (if not using pearl onions) and carrots and slice the mushroom. Add the onions, mushrooms, and carrots to the pot (there is no need to wipe the pot clean — the leftover pieces of meat and brown bits will flavour the vegetables). Add the last tablespoon of butter to coat the vegetables. Sweat the vegetables for a minute or two. Sprinkle the vegetable mixture with flour and stir to combine. Return the veal to the pot, nestling the pieces of meat between the vegetables. Add the beef broth, and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the bouquet garni. Cover and simmer over medium heat for about 45 minutes or until the veal is tender.
Prepare the ‘Liaison’ (sauce thickener): whisk together egg yolks and cream in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, remove 1/2 cup of the warm cooking liquid from the pot and add it, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the liaison to temper it. (If you add the eggs and cream directly to the pot, the egg will cook and curdle). Stir tempered liaison into pot.
Add the lemon juice and chopped parsley to the pot (reserving a small sprinkling of parsley to garnish the dish) and combine. If desired, salt and pepper the dish further, to taste. Garnish dish with remaining parsley. Serve warm with crusty, delicious French bread.