Blanquette de Veau, a popular French classic dish reputed to be THE French favourite of family dishes - most often translated in English as Veal Casserole or Stew in White Sauce.
Before you think of this as a boring stew, learn the recipe secrets below how to make its famous light sauce, packed with flavour and the most tender veal. En plus, this popular dish can be prepared in advance.
What is a Blanquette de Veau?
Veal stew in white sauce or Blanquette de Veau is a pure and simple French Grandmother's dish which has passed on from family generation to generation. Most families have their own version and French chefs have their own spin to it (more vegetables, adding gherkins/cornichons, morille mushrooms). It's a popular classic casserole or stew with meat that is so tender and served in the most delectable white sauce. Moreover, it's a great dish to prepare in advance, either by making the day before or freezing ahead (see below).
The term, "Blanquette" refers to the way it's initially cooked: the meat isn't browned or seared with oil or butter. Instead the veal is placed in a large ceramic pot together with its initial partners in taste: of wine, fresh herbs (bouquet garni) and carrots. A garnish of mushrooms and small pickling/pearl onions is prepared separately and finally added with the sauce.
At the end of cooking, the sauce is thickened (lié in French) either by making a roux or tempered with egg yolk (like this recipe without flour). So, as it bubbles away cooking merrily in its own stock with wine, you can get on with other things.
White Sauce That Makes This French Dish so Popular
'White sauce' doesn't sound exciting. It even sounds a bit bland. Before you're thinking of dull images of a plain béchamel sauce with flour, milk and butter with boiled meat, READ ON!
This casserole couldn't be further from plain. For a start, there is no flour in this sauce - it's gluten free. The Blanquette is simply thickened by reducing the natural stock at the end - whisking in egg yolks, cream, a flourish of nutmeg and lemon juice/zest, and adding a garnish of mushrooms and small pickling/pearl onions (I sometimes like to use Spring Onions).
The Secrets to Making A Good Blanquette
A good Blanquette de Veau is full of flavour. What are the secrets to making a good blanquette de veau? It has to have a creamy, fragrant sauce. Added with a hint of lemon and the touch of cloves just gives it that extra touch of warmth.
When it's packed with such flavour, you can see why the French consider it their favourite national stew. It may be seen as family fare but serve this version with some rice at a dinner party and it works a treat - ça marche.
It only really works, however, if you carry out the necessary extra steps at the end, otherwise the taste is nothing like the real thing. I've seen recipes that just use crème fraîche and don't take the time to whisk up the classic sauce using egg yolks or roux to complete the dish. We've tried them together as a family and the resulting taste is less rich and downright BLAND. Frankly, that's like making a curry without any spices!
Where Does 'Blanquette de Veau' Come From?
Blanquette de Veau is a classic French dish from our Ile-de-France region around Paris.
Its history in brief: It's first cited in 1735 by Vincent Chapelle in his book, Le Cuisinier Moderne, using white leftover roasted meats, mushrooms and onions.
It's not until 1867 that chef Jules Gouffé states that a Blanquette uses raw white meats, boiled in a fragrant stock and thickened with a roux (On Va Déguster La France by François-Régis Gaudry).
What type of meat is Veau?
Veau is French for veal, which is a particularly popular meat in France (and Italy).
For a blanquette, ideally use a mixture of best quality veal: mainly breast and shoulder and cut off any excess fat. If you can't get good veal, then replace the meat with chicken. So a blanquette with chicken or French Chapon will also work well (use free-range, if possible). If so, add some pre-cooked chestnuts for a festive touch. However, to enjoy the classic, please do try to find the best veal you can.
Take the time in the last couple of steps to thicken the sauce. However, if you do want to cut corners, use frozen ready-prepared small pearl onions. Otherwise use fresh spring onions which are quick to prepare.
How to Make a Popular French Blanquette de Veau
Often referred to as the Garnish, the mushrooms and onions are cooked separately. We're not throwing everything together in one pot - just yet!
Best Tip for Cooking Mushrooms
Fry mushrooms at first without any oil or butter in a non-stick pan until they have given out all of their juices. This concentrates the flavour. THEN add the butter and sauté with the pearl onions until golden and set aside.
For more on their varieties and how to cook them,
see the mushroom market produce page.
Lift the lid of the casserole dish and smell these flavours! Discard the bay leaf, thyme and parsley stalks. Remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large serving dish, adding the cooked mushrooms and small pearl onions. Set aside and keep warm in a cool-moderate oven.
How to Make the Best Blanquette White Sauce
This is the important part of the recipe! Boil the cooking liquid over a high heat until reduced. Meanwhile, in a bowl, hand-whisk the crème fraîche, lemon zest and juice, yolks, grated nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper.
Temper the sauce by blending 3 tablespoons of the hot stock then quickly whisk in the yolk mixture back into the stock. Stir constantly until thickened but do not boil (it will reduce its subtle flavours). Whisk until the sauce is smooth and velvety.
Pour the sauce over the meat and serve with rice from the Camargue and a good, crusty baguette.
Can I Reheat Blanquette de Veau (White Veal Stew)?
The bonus is this dish is also lovely reheated the next day. For busy gourmets, this dish can be prepared the day before a dinner party. Just prepare steps one and two in advance, cool then chill in the fridge.
At this point, this is also perfect to freeze.
However, please do not freeze after making the stew in its entirety with the sauce, as the sauce is so delicate, it will seriously lose its flavours in the freezer.
Whether defrosted or reheated the next day, just make the sauce on the day of serving and voilà!
What Does Blanquette de Veau Taste Like?
A good Blanquette that has been cooking slowly means the meat so tender, it melts in the mouth. The flavours in this recipe are delicate yet subtly pronounced. The taste of the cloves studded in the onion comes through, as well as the thyme. Likewise, as does the flavour of the mushrooms and pearl onions.
This is because they have been cooked separately, adding to the dish at the end of cooking.
Perhaps the best taste is the richness of marrying all the flavours together thanks to the creamy egg yolk sauce which binds it all together. The final touch is the hint of natural lemon to that silky sauce.
For more, see my egg yolk recipes.
What do you Drink with Blanquette de Veau?
My husband, Antoine adores wine pairing (me too, but he's been getting good at this over the years!). So he serves this with a delicate white wine, such as an Alsace Riesling or Pinot Gris, again from Alsace.
Otherwise, if you prefer something richer, go for a St. Véran, Marsannay or pretty much any white Burgundy will be fabulous.
For more easy dishes that we make 'en famille', see our family's favourite Classic French dishes, including popular casseroles such as:
Blanquette de Veau (French Veal Stew)
- dutch oven or heavy casserole dish
- 1.4 kg (3lb) veal mixture of breast & shoulder, cut into chunks, trimmed of fat
- 1 large onion
- 3 cloves
- bouquet garni 1 bay leaf, 1 large sprig thyme, 3 sprigs parsley
- 1 leek white part only, sliced
- 2 large carrots cut into chunks
- 250 ml / 9 fl oz white wine
- 300 g (11oz) mushrooms (champignons de Paris) about 24, halved or quartered depending on size
- 18 small pearl onions or spring onions (or use frozen)
- 25 g (1oz) butter
- 150 g / 5.5 oz crème fraîche
- 3 large egg yolks
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- grated zest and juice of half lemon unwaxed/organic
- ½ teaspoon fleur de sel salt (plus few turns of the peppermill) to taste
- Stud the onion with the cloves. Place the veal in a casserole dish and add the carrots, onion, leek and bouquet garni. Pour in the wine and add just enough water to cover the meat and vegetables. Bring to the boil, skimming the surface for the first 10 minutes of any scum. Cover and simmer gently for about 2 hours.
- About 45 minutes before the end of cooking, prepare the garnish. Wash mushrooms, pat dry and cut into halves or quarters, depending on their size. TIP: Fry mushrooms at first without any oil or butter in a non-stick pan until they have given out all of their juices. This concentrates the flavour. THEN add the butter and fry the onions. When cooked, add the lemon juice and set aside.
- Lift the lid of the casserole dish and smell these flavours! Discard the bay leaf and herb stalks. Remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large serving dish, adding the mushrooms and pearl onions. Set aside and keep warm in a cool-moderate oven while preparing the sauce.
- Boil the cooking liquid over a high heat until reduced. Meanwhile, in a bowl, hand-whisk the crème fraîche, lemon zest and juice, yolks, grated nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. Blend in 3 tablespoons of the hot stock then quickly whisk in the yolk mixture back into the stock. Stir constantly until thickened but do not boil (it will reduce its subtle flavours). Whisk until the sauce is smooth and velvety then pour over the meat and vegetables.
This recipe was originally published on 13 January 2015, but text and photos have been updated with a printable recipe card.