About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, July 30, 2007
Great British Menu & Veal Blanquette
The new series of Great British Menu has started. Having liked the first series, I've started watching the second, beginning with the contest for Midlands and the east, between Galton Blackiston and Sat Bains, which appears to be very much the contest of old school versus new, with Galton producing traditional food and Sat a style that seems to have evolved from molecular gastronomy.

It was the starters that caught mine and the judges attention. Galton produced a ham hock terrine with piccalilli and toasted spelt bread and Sat countered with ham, egg and peas. It was right here that Sat won the competition with a duck egg that was cooked for 1.5 hours at 62c, leaving it well cooked but still soft, gooey and voluptuous, partnered with air dried ham, peas and a pea sorbet. Visually it was stunning and it was no surprise that all the judges went for it.

But it was something the judges said, Matthew Fort in particular, about Galton's lamb and spring vegetable creation that raised my eyebrow. What Matthew said in effect, was just about any cook could have come up with that sort of dish, implying that it was boring even though it was well cooked, prefering Sat's boiled in the bag beef with seven different onions. It was these two dishes that summed up the chefs' differing philosophies and both were keen to disparage each other, with Sat claiming the modern high ground with his use of sous-vide.

It made me smile a bit, for there is nothing new about cooking food at a lower temperature than boiling point, good chefs have been doing it for centuries and the only difference between the way Sat cooked his beef and boeuf a la ficelle, an old classic recipe, is the use of a bag to keep flavour in, whereas boeuf a la ficelle uses good stock to add flavour, otherwise both methods use heat below the boiling point. But in Matthew's eyes, Sat was the more innovative, whereas I saw Galton's dish as far more technical in the way he prepared the lamb, a point that was lost upon Matthew, who preferred it seemed, to concentrate on the garnish.

To condemn a dish because it's been seemingly done before is to condemn all the classics. Why we keep on cooking them is because they work. It seems that was being judged in Great British Menu had more to do with fashion than good cooking. There was a time when nouvelle cuisine and cuisine minceur took the food world by storm in the way that molecular gastronomy is now doing, yet how many chefs or home cooks use those styles? Sat's dessert of raspberry sponge, doused with raspberry vinegar and served with black olive and honey puree and goat's milk ice-cream owed a great deal to nouvelle cuisine, yet was an unmitigated disaster.

What has happened is the best bits of nouvelle cuisine and cuisine minceur have been assimilated into modern cooking, as the best parts of molecular gastronomy will undoubtedly also be. Already some parts of it are being questioned, foams for instance have come under fire in some quarters for not adding much at all to a dish, other than a look. It's fascinating to watch the continued evolution of cooking as new techniques and ways of looking at food advance our understanding and knowledge, but unlike Matthew Fort, I don't think that I will ever be bored by well cooked food, regardless of what style is used.

This following dish is a case in point. Veal blanquette belongs to a group of dishes such as the boulliabaisses, pot-au-feus, choucroutes, garbures et al, that are cuisine du terroir, the great regional dishes of France and were prepared as la cuisine de femme, cooked by generations of women who had plenty of time as they didn't need to work to pay the mortgage, passing the recipes and secrets from mother to daughter. But it is something more than that, it is food cooked with love and affection for their families and friends, emotions that should inform all cooking.

It also contains a modern version of the old way of thickening the sauce, preferring to use a strong reduction along with egg yolks and cream in the nouvelle cuisine manner, rather than using flour. There is also the technique of cooking the meat at below the simmering point, a la molecular gastronomy, to ensure it doesn't fall apart, retaining a wonderful texture. It is also the sort of dish that cannot be successfully made without real chicken stock and I don't even mean the sort you can buy ready made in the supermarket, it is essential to make your own, with plenty of chicken pieces and bones. In short, a weekend dish.

Veal Blanquette

1.5kg veal shoulder, cut in large cubes
about two litres homemade chicken stock
3 carrots, peeled and quartered
2 onions, peeled and each stuck with two cloves
1 bouquet garni
6 small (pickling) onions, peeled, roots trimmed and left whole
300g small button mushrooms
300ml double cream
4 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and fresh ground pepper

Place the veal in a casserole and just enough chicken stock to cover and lightly season with salt - not too much salt as there will be a large reduction later on. Bring to the boil, constantly skimming all scum until no more appears, add the carrots, onions and bouquet garni then reduce the temperature to between 80 and 90c and simmer for an hour then add the mushrooms and small onions and simmer for another hour or until the meat is tender.

Discard the large onions stuck with cloves and the bouquet garni, strain the cooking liquid into another pot and boil to reduce by half, keeping the meat and vegetables warm. Whisk the cream, egg yolks and lemon juice together and pour into the slightly cooled reduction, whisking all the time. Season with salt and pepper and cook very gently until slightly thickened, on no account boil it or the egg will curdle. Stir in the meat and vegetables and serve with some mashed potatoes. Serves six, with love.


  posted at 8:52 am

At 12:27 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

There you've done it again. You take the obvious and say it so well everything sparkles. New maybe good but the classics are classics for a reason! Perfect again Neil.

At 6:12 pm, Anonymous Ellie said...

A very thought-provoking post, it's quite interesting that the classic was dismissed in favour of the beef in the bag creation. You raise a very good point about classic dishes being classic for a reason - what is with this focus on 'nouvelle cuisine'? It *is* interesting to a degree, but at some stage I think it no longer counts as cooking food, but is just a case of showing off for the sake of it.

Having said that, you also raise a good point that some techniques from nouvelle cuisine do have something to offer, I guess it's just a matter of not getting carried away :)

At 9:30 pm, Blogger Truffle said...

Very interesting. Your post also reminded me that I've been meaning to catch this show for some time now. Really must do so!

At 11:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time visiting and can I just say that I LOVE the look of your site? Really fantastic!

Ari (Baking and Books)

At 11:37 pm, Blogger Blue Zebra said...

Neil such a well-written post. Very eloquently put. You bring up a point about cooking that echoes my beliefs. Preparing a dish, complex or simple, with authority and an attitude of service is a great LOVE gift you give to your diners.

I don't really care for the "balls to the wall" cooking styles of nouvelle cuisine. Often, I think it is throwing tastes and techniques together for the sake of alchemy, just to see what happens and then to be able to boast later if it works to your advantage.

The first example is about humbling yourself. The second example is about placing yourself first. Big difference.


At 12:06 pm, Blogger Anh said...

Neil, this is a very well-writen post. I also believe the taste of the food is more important than the look.

Also, the veal blanquette sounds very interesting. One question, though. Do you think a slow cooker can be used for this (at least for the simmering part?)

At 12:45 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, that's me, all obvious! But I just had to say something about the way Matthew viewed the two dishes, it seemed he missed the point, Prue Leith got it right.

Hi ellie, you're right, we can't dismiss something just because it's new and out of the comfort zone, though it should be noted that sous-vide improperly used could cause botulism. We need to take the best bits and incorporate them.

Hi truffle, it is a great program and well worth catching, LifeStyle FOOD - Mon-Fri 7.30pm

Hi ari, thank you and welcome!

Hi blue zebra, nice point and it sort of sums up why nouvelle cuisine didn't catch on, some of it was just weird.

Hi anh, so long as the cooker has a thermostat, it should be no problem. Having said that, there is no real problem in cooking it hotter, it just changes the texture of the meat, but is no big deal.

At 1:01 pm, Anonymous Y said...

Hear hear! While I quite liked some of Sat Bain's ideas, I didn't like his criticism of Galton's cooking style (maybe this was engineered a bit by the camera crew so that it would be more exciting tv?), because all cooking comes from being able to master the classics first.

At 7:51 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi y, I think all the chefs have a brief to be crtical of each other on the program, as you suggest, to give it a bit more tension, so I take what they say with the proverbial grain of salt, but the judges are another matter, I'm sure they are saying what they think.


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