A French Stew Light Enough for Spring

Ease into the season with blanquette de veau, a classic dish of delicate veal in a comforting cream sauce
March 24, 2021 Updated: March 24, 2021

Veal blanquette is a classic white stew from the French repertoire, made with tender veal chunks cooked “en blanquette” in a broth with vegetables and aromatics. Finished with a creamy, mushroom-studded sauce of tangy crème fraîche and zesty lemon juice, it brings together all the comforts of a winter stew, but with the brightness we yearn for in a spring dish. This is the perfect recipe to carry us from cold to warmer days.

What Is Cooking en Blanquette?

The word “blanquette” comes from the color white—“blanc” in French—which describes the color of the meat and of the sauce. Indeed, in most classic French stews, such as beef bourguignon, the chunks of meat must be browned beforehand—but this isn’t the case in veal blanquette. The meat should remain “white.”

Cooking “en blanquette” thus describes cooking meat or fish in broth with aromatics to prevent it from browning or getting any type of sear. The meat or fish is then reserved on the side, and the broth is bolstered with a white roux (butter and flour) and enriched with white crème fraîche and egg yolk before the meat or fish is returned to the stew.

If you aren’t familiar with cooking en blanquette, boiling meat in a broth may sound like an odd or counter-intuitive process. But you will soon realize the slow simmering gives the veal a unique tenderness and develops more delicate flavors, compared to other brown stews. Blanquettes are much-beloved dishes in France, whether made with fish, poultry, or even ham—but veal blanquette, or blanquette de veau, remains a favorite for most.

Because it only requires one pot and one broth, cooking en blanquette also happens to be easier and less labor intensive than other stews involving browning the meat first. That said, choosing the right cut of veal and understanding how the flavors of this unique stew are built are essential to making this deliciously classic stew in your own kitchen.

Here’s how it’s done.

Choosing the Right Cut

Compared to beef, veal is more fine grained and has a more delicate texture and flavor, which makes it perfect for cooking en blanquette. The usual pieces of choice are flank, neck, breast, shoulder (most affordable), and collar (less common, but exquisite). For this recipe, I use boneless shoulder, but it’s common to use different cuts of veal to get different textures in the final dish.

No matter which cut you choose, slice the veal into 2-inch chunks—no smaller, as the cubes will shrink slightly as they cook. Using chunks of this size ensures they will hold up to the 2 hours of simmering, and will turn extremely tender, not break apart. It is also essential to salt the veal at least 2 hours before you start cooking, to allow the salt to penetrate deep into the meat.

Building the Flavor

While browned meat is often key to building depth of flavor in a stew, veal blanquette must rely on other ingredients for flavor. We call these other ingredients “la garniture aromatique” (aromatic garnishes), which are: a bouquet garni, a clove-poked onion, and the vegetables.

Bouquet garni, translating to “garnished bouquet,” is a bundle of fresh herbs, typically parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, all tied up together with cooking twine. This classic element of French cuisine is often used to flavor broths, soups, and stews. In a veal blanquette, a bouquet garni offers aromatic flavors to the stewing broth, the meat, and the vegetables.

The idea of tying together herbs, instead of simply throwing them in the stew, is to prevent them from scattering in the dish. Once finished cooking, you can easily remove the herb bundle instead of retrieving sprigs one by one, or even accidentally leaving a few leaves behind. For veal blanquette, using a bouquet garni allows you to use a good amount of herbs to lend fragrant floral notes to the dish, without altering the texture and presentation of the signature velvety white sauce.

The Vegetables

Following the same rule as for the meat and the sauce, the vegetables traditionally found in a veal blanquette are meant to be white: onions and button or cremini mushrooms. Over time, however, more vegetables have slipped into the recipe, and nowadays, you will rarely find a veal blanquette made without carrots. Along with carrots, celery is also often added to build flavor in the broth. I myself prefer fennel, which has a similar texture but brings even more aromatic notes to the dish.

While the other vegetables are simply added to the simmering broth to cook, mushrooms are sautéed on the side in butter and added to the stew at the end of cooking. Sautéing the mushrooms is to obtain a nice sear. You want the mushrooms to be golden and slightly caramelized, so they deliver all their flavor. If you skip this step and simply stew them in the broth, they will turn rather rubbery and bland in flavor.

Veal Blanquette

This is one of those crowd-pleasing stewed dishes that tastes even better reheated the next day. Serve it over rice with sweet peas, or boiled potatoes.

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds trimmed, boneless veal shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)
  • 1 bouquet garni (5 parsley sprigs, 2 to 3 thyme sprigs, and 2 bay leaves)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and poked with 6 cloves
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, cut in half

For the Mushrooms

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Roux

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

To Finish

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche
  • Chopped parsley, to serve

About 2 hours before cooking, pat the veal cubes dry with paper towels and season them well with salt and black pepper. Let rest to near room temperature.

In a medium Dutch oven, cover the veal with the broth and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Make the bouquet garni: Tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves together with cooking twine and add the bundle to the pot, along with the onion. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour, occasionally skimming the fat that may form from the top of the broth with a large spoon.

Epoch Times Photo
Make the bouquet garni. (Audrey Le Goff)
Epoch Times Photo
Prepare the clove-studded onion, carrots, and fennel. (Audrey Le Goff)

After 1 hour, add the carrots and fennel and simmer for another 45 minutes. Test the texture of the veal; it should be fork tender.

Epoch Times Photo
Simmer the veal with the broth and aromatics, then the additional vegetables. (Audrey Le Goff)

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, seasoned to taste with salt and black pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked and lightly browned. Set aside.

Epoch Times Photo
Cook the mushrooms separately in butter. (Audrey Le Goff)

With a large slotted spoon, drain the meat and vegetables and reserve on a plate covered with foil to prevent them from drying. Discard the bouquet garni and onion.

Epoch Times Photo
Remove and reserve the veal and vegetables while you finish the sauce. (Audrey Le Goff)

In a small bowl, mix together the butter and flour with a fork. Pour about 1/4 cup of the hot broth into the paste and whisk until smooth. Pour the mix into the hot broth in the Dutch oven and whisk to combine. Simmer for about 10 minutes over moderate heat, whisking often, until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste-test the sauce: no floury taste should remain.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, egg yolk, and crème fraîche. Pour about 1/4 cup of the hot broth into the crème mixture to temper it, then whisk into the sauce in the Dutch oven.

Add the veal, vegetables, and mushrooms, and keep over low heat until the meat is hot again. Season the stew with salt and pepper to taste.

For serving, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley.

Epoch Times Photo
Bring everything together and garnish with parsley to serve. (Audrey Le Goff)

Audrey Le Goff is a French food writer, photographer, and creator of the food blog Pardon Your French where she shares recipes and stories from her beloved home country, France. She is the author of the cookbook “Rustic French Cooking Made Easy” (2019). She currently lives in Niagara, Canada. Follow her on Instagram @pardonyourfrench