CURRY A LITTLE F(L)AVOR WITH GRANDMÈRE
BLANQUETTE is just a fancy name for stew; meat, traditionally veal, sometimes lamb, chicken or fish, long-simmered in water until tender, often with herbs and vegetables tossed in, and bound together with a rich roux or with cream and eggs, seasoned to taste. My Larousse Gatronomique indicates that at one time this dish was the crème de la crème of French Bourgeois cooking. It has since trickled down the social ladder to find itself a Sunday Lunch mainstay of the average French family.
Sunday lunch at my in-laws. For years we went fairly often to join them around any one of a number of traditional plats : pot au feu, poulet frites, ham and endives in bechamel and, of course, the classic veal Blanquette. These hot, hearty dishes were filling enough for the peasants before they returned to the fields, but maybe a bit too heavy for us as the most we would do for the rest of the day is loll around the livingroom in front of the tv. But all in all, they leave behind memories of cozy winter days and lazy summers, family get-togethers and special occasions.
This version, torn from the pages of a French women’s magazine and passed on to me by a friend, is a cultural twist on this classic dish. Lamb replaces veal, and a couple of tablespoons of curry powder, a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous dusting of fresh coriander gives my blanquette an exotic flare.
CURRIED LAMB BLANQUETTE
2.5 lbs (1.2 kg) boneless lamb shoulder, cleaned, excess fat removed, cubed large
2 - 3 large carrots
1 leek, white only
1 yellow onion stuck with 1 clove
1Bouquet Garni (I use a couple of dried bay leaves and a couple of branches of dried thyme)
1 bouillon cube, I use chicken
10 oz (300 g) pearl onions
10 oz (300 g) button mushrooms
1 cup (250 ml) cream, preferably light but whatever you want, even sour cream in a pinch
1 Tbs olive oil
4 Tbs (50 g) unsalted butter
4 Tbs (50 g) flour
2 Tbs curry powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lemon and fresh coriander, both optional, both add a zing!
Peel the carrots and cut either into fat coins or sticks. Clean the leek, white only, peel off the outer layer and cut into inch-wide pieces. Clean the lamb by removing any excess fat and cut into large chunks. Put the lamb, carrots and leek into a large pot along with the onion stuck with the clove, the Bouquet Garni or dried herbs and the bouillon cube. Salt and pepper.
Cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn down heat, cover and allow to simmer for about 2 hours. The vegetables will be cooked and the meat tender.
Just before the 2 hours are up, prepare the pearl onions and mushrooms. Peel the onions. If using tiny button mushrooms, just trim the stem and make sure the mushrooms are clean, and leave them whole. If using larger white mushrooms, trim and clean and slice into large chunks, cutting into quarters or in 6.
Heat the olive oil (I add about a tablespoon of margarine to this) in a pot large enough to hold everything comfortably, toss in the pearl onions and mushrooms. Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, tossing often. Add a good squeeze of lemon, maybe the juice of half of the lemon. With a large slotted spoon, lift out the onions and mushrooms into a bowl and set aside. If any liquid remains in the pot, pour it into the blanquette.
At this time, the lamb and vegetables should be finished. With your slotted spoon, lift out the meat and vegetables into a large bowl. Remove the Bouquet Garni and the onion and throw them away. Keep the flame under the liquid in the pot on low.
Prepare the roux. In the same pot that you just cooked the onions and mushrooms, melt the butter. Add the flour all at once and, whisking constantly, cook this roux over low heat for about 3 minutes.
While continuing to whisk, pour in a ladleful of the lamb-vegetable cooking liquid into the roux and stir until a thick sauce begins to form. Keep adding the broth, a ladleful at a time, stirring non-stop until you have added maybe 4 or 5 ladles of the liquid and you have a thick sauce.
Blend in the 2 tablespoons of curry powder, then add this carefully to the main pot with the rest of the lamb cooking liquid. Stir until well blended and thickened, just a minute or two. Very carefully so as not to splash, place the meat, carrots and leeks into the sauce, then add the onions and mushrooms. Stir well, then taste. Add more salt, pepper and lemon juice if you like.
To serve, place the Curried Lamb Blanquette on a large serving platter and sprinkle generously with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with white rice, plain or basmati.