Eddie and I had a little dinner party yesterday and I made a great French classic, Blanquette d’Agneau, lamb in a creamy white sauce. It’s probably one of the simplest things to make, it keeps in the chiller for 3 days and in fact improves with age, it freezes extremely well and is hardly any work at all, so it’s really the perfect dinner party dish.
Eddie made fresh egg white pasta to go with this, as well as a tray of roast broccolini and mushrooms and I’ll tell you how to do all of that. Of course you can buy pasta ready made, or just serve steamed potatoes with the blanquette, which is the classic accompaniment. Toss the steamed potatoes in butter and chives, or chopped spring onion and you’ll have some very happy guests.
Let’s start our recipe. This will serve 8 people, which is 2 more than we had yesterday, but as I said, it freezes well, so Eddie and I will enjoy it second time in a month or so.
- 1.6kg lamb leg or shoulder
- 1200ml chicken stock
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 3 carrots
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 branches rosemary
- 60g butter
- 60g flour
- 3 Tbsp crème fraîche
- 1.5 egg yolk
- Salt & white pepper
Before you throw up your hands and give up because of the chicken stock, you have many options to replace it with! Water alone will do fine. The addition of a stock cube will improve things and a tetrapack of Campbell’s Best will not put you to shame at all! I’ve tried all sorts of other ready packed stocks, from “organic” to “professional”, but I’ll put my money on this one. Don’t buy two, just lengthen this one litre with 200ml water. If you are opting to use just water, chuck a few extra vegetables into your pot. A branch of celery, an onion and maybe a leek will not be amiss. You can pick these out again after you’ve simmered your blanquette, or you can just serve the whole lot together.
Start by cutting your lamb into 1.5″ cubes. Don’t worry too much about the sizes not being the same and if your lamb leg is frozen, see the Hausfrauen Ratschlag below. Peel your carrots and cut them into big, thick slices. If you want to be anal about it like me, cut the thick top end into 1″ slices and then gradually increase the size as you cut to the thin end, where your last chunk should be 1.5″. Now you’re set to start the cooking.
Heat half a tablespoon of butter and half a tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron pot. You can use any old pot, but you really should invest in a nice cast iron pot. They cost a fortune, but they will be with you for the rest of your life and if you are lucky enough to have children, they will take them off your hands once your cooking days are over. Watch out for the sales, as you can often pick up a Le Creuset or a Staub pot at 50% discount. It will still leave you a grand poorer.
This baby has been with me in Luxembourg, Paris, London, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. I bought it when I was 16, so it’s been with me for 40 years. At the time I bought it, cost me every penny I had, but it is a purchase I’ve never regretted. It is now battered and dented, but it behaves very well indeed.
By now your butter will have burned. Which you must prevent at all costs. Wash and dry the lamb if you can be bothered and if not, just pour off the blood and get on with it. You want to just seal the lamb pieces without browning them.
Make sure you keep the lid on the simmering lamb. This is vital if you want to have enough sauce in the end. While your lamb is simmering, you can make the roux and mix the crème fraîche. Both are super easy and fast. First the roux:
For a just nicely thickened stock, you will need 60g of butter and 60g of flour. I find that the standard ratio of 100g flour per litre i.e. 10% of the liquid by weight is vastly too much. So I go for 5% or 60g flour for 1.2 litre stock. Butter and flour are always at the same ratio, so you don’t need to think about that.
Melt the butter, but don’t brown it and try keep it at a lowish temperature, add the flour and stir vigorously, making sure there are no bits that don’t get moved, because they will brown. A white roux is just quick fried, but I prefer a blond roux, so I cook it through its three stages. First it will look smooth, then it will become slightly powdery and after that, it’s going to be smooth again, which is when you stop. Take it off the heat, but keep stirring for a while, to make sure nothing burns. If you are too lazy to make roux, check out the Hausfrauen Ratschlag below.
Put the crème fraîche into a bowl, add an egg yolk (and a half) and stir it in. If you are finishing the blanquette later, or the next day, just keep your crème fraîche egg yolk mix covered in the chiller. Add this just a few minutes before you serve the blanquette and it will taste much fresher. If you can’t find crème fraîche, see below for tips.
Once your lamb is cooked, turnoff the heat and let cook for a ten minutes. Now gently pick out all the meat and carrot and put it into a bowl. The fresh rosemary will have shed its needles all over the stew. You can pick them all out, like I do, or just leave them in. Strain the stock into another pot and bring it back to a simmer. Add the roux spoonful by spoonful until you reach the consistency you want. It should be just fine, but better be safe than sorry. Put the lamb and carrots into the pot you want to serve them in. pour the sauce over and set aside until you need it. This is the point at which you can chill or freeze the blanquette.
Just before serving reheat your lamb blanquette. Make sure the meat is properly hot, then turn down the heat and add the crème fraîche egg yolk mix. Let it come to a small simmer, but don’t boil it, or the egg will scramble. Serve. The addition of the roux prevents the egg yolk from curdling immediately, so you can simmer it without danger.
Egg White Pasta
- 320g plain flour
- 80g semolina
- 180g egg white
- 1 level tsp salt
Leave the dough to rest for an hour, then roll it out in a pasta machine to the thickness you want. On my Marcato Atlas, we roll it to #7, which is quite thin. Dust your pasta sheets well and cut them into any shape you like. I think pappardelle work very well with blanquette. Boil them for about two minutes, put them into a big bowl, add a generous cut of butter and a chopped herb of your choice. My choice is usually chervil.
Roast Broccolini & Mushrooms
This is super easy; just blanch the whole broccolini for 2 minutes, then drop them into an ice bath. Toss the mushrooms with olive oil, salt and black pepper lightly, arrange it all in a shallow tray and make this easy sauce to go over:
- 50g butter
- 2 Tbsp capers
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme
- salt & black pepper
Chop the garlic roughly, chop the capers and the thyme and although I do all that separately, you could very conveniently chop it all together. Melt the butter in a saucepan and sweat the garlic for a minute without browning it, then add the capers and thyme and stir for a minute. If you chopped all together, just sweat it all together. Salt and pepper lightly and spoon over the vegetables. Bake for 20 minutes in a 180ºC oven.
Good food and good friends make for a great evening. And when you have prepared all your food in advance, you will be able to enjoy the time with your friends without having to run around the kitchen. The roast vegetables will happily wait, the blanquette can be ready and all can be on the table while you quickly boil up the pasta. Carry your big bowl of buttered pasta to the table, sit down and forget the world for a short while.
I like to buy a whole boneless leg of lamb and I like to buy it frozen, because most so-called chilled lamb in this country has been frozen before and then defrosted and if it hasn’t, you have no idea when it was shipped and how old it really is. So I buy frozen and if I have the time, I defrost over 2 days in the chiller.
What if the lamb is frozen solid and you want to cook it NOW? Fret not! Leave the lamb out for 2 hours. Our Malaysian temperature will have defrosted it enough for you to use a sharp knife to cut it. And if you want to make half a recipe, cut the lamb in half and return one of the pieces to the freezer. Double freezing the little defrosted part is not going to kill anyone. Cut what you need into 1.5″ pieces while it’s still frozen and it will defrost much faster, as long as you put it into a tray in one layer. Cover with cling film to prevent it from drying out.
I’m too lazy to make roux, what do I do? Let the 60g butter come to room temperature and sieve 60g flour into it, then mix to a homogeneous paste. In fact it is a good idea to always have a bit of this “beurre manié” in the chiller. Add it bit by bit to your stock and whisk it in.
I can’t find crème fraîche! Replace it with sour cream. If that can’t be found either, use whipping cream and slowly add a tablespoon of lemon juice to it. This will thicken the cream and acidify it.