julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Stew On This

 

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“Lisa was scouring Manhattan for veal stew meat.  She had spent the day industriously calling up fancy-ass butchers.  When she said ‘veal’, the butchers kept saying they had something called ‘veal log’.  Lisa is no butcher, but she knew enough to find the word ‘veal’ and the word ‘log’, together in the same sentence, vaguely sinister.  So on she wandered, from shop to shop, searching vainly for veal stew meat…Poor Lisa – looking for veal, and too much of it, in all the wrong places, while I start on my first vodka tonic of the evening, not to say my last.” – Julie Powell

Let’s face it…only a crazy person would make stew in the dead heat of summer. (“Summer?” you ask. “But it’s only June!” Yes, friends…when you live on the sun, seasons are meaningless.) What can I say? I’ve barely made a dent in the veal chapter of MtAoFC, and drastic times call for drastic measures.

Julia’s Saute de Veau Marengo (brown veal stew with tomatoes and mushrooms) sounds more like a latin dance than a French dish, but that’s what struck my fancy while perusing the pages of the cookbook. I had to ask my local butcher to cut me some veal stew meat, but it only took a few minutes and the end result was worth the wait. I dried the veal with paper towels and browned them in a pan of super-hot oil (be sure to keep an eye on it – it doesn’t take long to brown!). I then tossed them into an oven-safe casserole and added a cup of minced yellow onions to the oil in the saucepan.  

The flour will coat the meat and help thicken the sauce.

It’s here I must confess to you my love-hate relationship with onions. I can’t stand the way they burn my eyes when I’m chopping them up for the stove. It seems that no matter what trick I try (short of resorting to a pair of goggles), I always look like I’m having some sort of emotional break-down in the kitchen. (So if you come by while I’m cooking and I’ve got mascara streaming down my face, fear not. Chances are an onion got the better of me.) BUT, all is forgiven when those onion bits start to heat up in the pan, and their sweet aroma begins filling the kitchen…it’s heavenly, I say.

 Now, where were we? AH! Into the pan of lightly-browned onions goes a cup of vermouth…stand back, sister, and brace yourself for an onslaught of steam! Things settle down pretty quickly, and the onions and wine start to work their magic. 

Meanwhile, back in the casserole, heat the meat on the stove and add a dash of salt and pepper, then a little touch of flour to sort of thicken things up a bit. Add the wine/onions to the casserole and give the whole thing a good mix, bringing it to a simmer to be sure everyone is mingling and having a good time. (Have an ice breaker game on-hand, just in case.) 

Now we're cooking with gas! No, really...I have a gas range.

The last major step is to add some chopped PSJ tomatoes (a lesson on that coming soon, friends) and some seasonings (basil, thyme, garlic…you know, the usual suspects). Slap a cover on that casserole and put it into the bottom third of your 325-degree oven and take a break for an hour and a half. (Of course, halfway through the cooking process it occurred to me that since I had halved the recipe – I mean, really, how much veal stew do two people really need? – the cooking time should also be less. I know, sometimes I amaze myself with my brilliance.) So it only took about 45 minutes for the dish to cook through. 

 I took the pot out of the oven (okay, I had my husband take the pot out of the oven…that thing was HOT and HEAVY. Hey…get your minds out of the gutter!) and added some quartered mushrooms, simmered the dish on the stove for a minute, then set it back in the oven for a few more minutes. When it was done, the pot was removed from the oven a final time, and I poured the contents through a strainer into the original saucepan (you know, where those delicious onions cooked in the beginning). The sauce poured through into the pan, and all the meat and veggies were caught in the strainer – I tossed them back into the pot and boiled down the sauce a bit. Finally, I poured it back over the stew, and dinner was served! 

And up through the ground came a-bubblin' crude... stew sauce, that is.

Julia recommends this dish be served with rice or noodles. We had some spaetzle a friend had given us, so we decided to use that for something different. (Not to completely derail our adventure here, but if you’ve never had spaetzle, here’s a fun recipe to try. I’ve never eaten it the way they suggest, but it looks like it’s worth trying!) 

The stew was pretty good! I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite, but it was very tasty. After having tried hundreds of French recipes in MtAoFC, I’ve determined that Julia’s dishes whose sauces are beef stock-based taste more American to me – the flavors are familiar (but better!) and the ingredients are recognizable. Her dishes whose sauces are vermouth-based have certain tones and flavors that are unique to the French cuisine. All of that to say, this stew was definitely a French dish. The last time I ate veal, the meat seemed a bit tough and gamey, but this meat was very tender and reminded me of the lamb stew I made before. The tomatoes had created a really nice rosy sauce that was just the right consistency, and the onions and wine gave the dish a little extra flavor. I felt like it was missing a little je ne sais pas, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I added more salt and pepper, and that seemed to help. 

Not a bad dinner, if I do say so myself. I think Julia would be proud...although I'm not sure she would approve of spaetzle. (It's German, you know.)

All in all, this was a good recipe. It didn’t knock my socks off, but it wasn’t disappointing, either. Halving the recipe still made plenty for two people – we each had a good-sized serving for dinner, and there was enough for another round of leftovers for lunch. This would be a good meal for the fall…you know, if you live in a place that actually has a fall with cooler temperatures.

 

Tonight we tackle something a little more familiar – beef sauté! 

Bon appétit!
– Jessica

 

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