Stew Note:
Cooking with Mme St Ange
21 February 2018

For years, I’ve had Paul Aratow’s translation of La Bonne Cuisine, by “Mme E St Ange” (Evelyn Ebrard), a compendium that it’s probably stupid to think of as the French Joy of Cooking, but I’ve never cooked from it. I find it more forbidding than Mastering the Art of French Cooking, if you want to know the truth. For one thing, it’s really French, not French adapted for American taste. And the measurements are odd. What is “8 grams (1/3 ounce) of salt” in teaspoons? 

For even longer, something called “Dilled Blanquette de Veau” has been my dinner-party staple for gatherings of near and dear. The recipe appears in the first Silver Palate cookbook. I know it by heart. You cook cubes of veal in a lot of butter until they turn grey, and then you cook it some more in some seasoned flour. Heaps of sliced onions and carrots are dumped in, along with broth to cover, plus a good deal of dill, which I learned to leave on the springs, for easy discarding. After a spell in the oven, you strain the stew and create a sauce with the broth, some roux, and heavy cream. When the meat and vegetables are added to the sauce, you sprinkle on plenty of chopped fresh dill that’s nice and green, not having been in the oven for an hour or more. Everybody loves it. 

Everybody but Kathleen, it turns out. Not that she would have told me if I hadn’t tried an alternative recipe. Yes, the one from La Bonne Cuisine. My idea had been to use the recipe in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, except there isn’t one. “[T]o my taste this dish with its creamy white sauce is rather insipid.” (571) The gals at Silver Palate probably thought the same thing. But I like creamy white sauces, so I turned to Mme St Ange.  

At first, it seemed impossible, because it was so unlike what I was used to. You simmer the veal in water, very gently, until all the scum has risen to the top. Then you add a few slices of carrot and an onion studded with a clove. And a bouquet garni, of course. This simmers for even longer. Meanwhile, you prepare mushrooms and pearl onions. I didn’t have any pearl onions, and I didn’t consult Madame’s method for mushrooms, but simply sautéed them. This wasn’t a mistake, exactly, but it would have been better if I’d boiled them, as recommended, because then I would have had some flavorful liquid to add to the broth created by the simmered veal.

I worried that the veal would be boiled to death, but it wasn’t; I really did keep the heat down, and conscientiously swept off the scum. The broth was crystal-clear when the simmering came to an end. But I couldn’t get the sauce to thicken properly, even with the egg yolk that was called for. It is possible that I hadn’t sufficiently reduced it. Nevertheless, the dish was very tasty, and Kathleen said that she liked it much better. So much better, really, that, truth to tell, she never did like the way I made it for years. 

“Make it again, soon!” she urged. So I will. 

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