Slow Cooker Blanquette de Veau is a family favourite for special occasions. Blanquette de Veau (or veal stew in a white sauce) is a classic French dish with a slightly tarnished reputation. It used to be that all veal was from male dairy calves who were cruelly taken from their mothers, raised in tiny crates and then slaughtered after only a few weeks. However, veal crates were banned in the UK in 1990, in Europe in 2007, and the US and Canada, state by state and province by province, are following suit and banning them too.
Crate raised veal is thankfully becoming a very rare commodity, and pasture raised or free-range veal (sometimes called Rose Veal) is no crueler than any other ethically raised meat. If you cannot get ethically raised veal, you can use pork shoulder in this recipe, but again do be sure it too has been ethically raised. This is also a more frugal option, and it does taste very good.
I will now get down off my soapbox and make a confession. This is far from a traditional Blanquette de Veau. It does, however, taste like the real thing and I speak from experience, having eaten it in France many times. Traditionally, the veal is blanched before it goes into the stew, which involves plunging it into boiling water, then cold water, draining it, and then cooking it. This just seems like a step (or two) too far for the lazy cook in me, so in my Blanquette, the veal is browned. While traditionalists may be appalled, my Slow Cooker Blanquette has proved popular at several dinner parties, and any leftovers taste even better the next day. So yes, you can make it the day before and reheat it, just loosen the sauce with a tiny bit of boiling water and perhaps a touch more cream.
Blanquette de Veau is traditionally served with rice, but I like it with crushed new potatoes, or even over noodles. I usually serve a bright green vegetable, like broccoli or green beans, alongside. For a kitchen supper, it is lovely served in bowls, with a crisp green salad and lots of crusty bread, but if you are talking to anyone who is actually French, please don’t tell them I said that!
This recipe serves 4 to 5 people in my house, but you could probably serve 6, especially if children are eating.
about 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds veal shoulder, cut in 2 inch pieces
(ask your butcher to do this for you)
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
about 18 small shallots or baby onions, peeled and cut in half if they are too large
2 sticks of celery, halved
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half
2 cloves garlic
a sprig of thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken or veal stock
2 cups chestnut mushrooms (or white mushrooms), sliced
or 2 cups button mushrooms
¼ to ½ cup heavy (double) cream
a squeeze of lemon
flat leaf parsley, chopped or dried parsley to garnish
Brush the inside of the slow cooker with a little of the oil. Heat half of the remainder of the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
Place the shallots or baby onions in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Mix the flour, salt and pepper together, and coat the pieces of veal in this mixture. Brown the veal in batches, in the frying pan, adding a bit more oil from time to time if necessary. As you brown each batch, put it in the slow cooker.
Put the celery and carrot pieces on top of the meat. Grate the garlic over and add the thyme and bay leaf. Pour the stock over top of everything, and cook on low for 3 hours.
After 3 hours, remove the sprig of thyme, the bay leaf, and the carrot and celery sticks. Add the mushrooms and stir through gently.
Cook the stew for a further hour or until the veal is done. Meat should have an internal temperature of at least 165 F.
There will be a lot of liquid in the slow cooker. Using a ladle, remove almost all of this liquid to a medium saucepan. (It probably won’t all come out easily, so don’t worry about the odd tablespoon or so in the bottom.)
Bring the liquid in the saucepan to the boil. Continue to let it boil, with the lid off, until it is reduced by half. You can give it a stir from time to time to stop it sticking. When the liquid has reduced, turn the heat back to low and stir in the cream, a bit at a time, until you get a nice creamy sauce. Taste for seasoning (feel free to add a bit of salt and pepper at this point) and add a squeeze of lemon if you feel it needs it.
Add this sauce back to the meat and onions in the slow cooker and stir through. Serve garnished with the parsley.