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There. That should clear the cobwebs. Sorry for the delay in posting. Some technical difficulties combined with a few work-related snafus, and a pinch or two of insomnia contributed to my lack of posting 'round these parts last week. Mucho apologieso, mio friendso (I'm sooo international). I'm happy to be back with this lovely veal dish, and am thrilled to let you know that French Laundry at Home is going on the road! I'm headed out to Portland, OR next weekend and I'll be doing a dish or two while I'm out there. Stay tuned!
But let's talk about today's dish, the braised breast of veal. I looooove me some veal. I love how tender it is, how almost-creamy it is, and I wish I made it more often. It's just so veal-y. I also love polenta. And garlic? Well, garlic and I have been totes in love for ages, so back off all you who claim to love garlic more than I. It's simply not possible. I also love to braise things, so this dish was such a perfect two-day project. Now that the weather has cooled a bit, it really feels like fall is here (about time, damnit), and braised veal on a cool fall weekend is something I highly recommend.
A few days before making this dish, I called Union Meat Company at DC's Eastern Market to order the veal breast, and I think we got our wires crossed. I asked for a five-pound "Bobby" veal breast (from a very young animal; smaller than a traditional veal breast). When I went to pick it up, the guy hauled out this ginormous slab o' meat -- like the size of the Bronto-rack that tipped over Fred Flintstone's car. It was a 15 pounder that he ended up cutting 5 pounds out of for me. Not exactly what I wanted, but I didn't really have a choice at that point.
The day before serving it, I braised the veal. I seasoned the veal breast and seared it on both sides before adding the braising liquid. Once it had seared (about 8-10 minutes total), I removed it from the pot and drained off any excess fat. I then added leeks, carrots, onion, garlic bay leaf and thyme and parsley to the pot and let it caramelize.
I put the meat back into the pot (bone side down), and added chicken stock and veal stock:
I covered this with a parchment lid and brought it up to a simmer on the stovetop. I then put it in a 325-degree oven to cook for the next four hours.
While the veal was braising away (and making my house smell all meaty and delicious), I made the polenta. I brought some chicken stock, water and garlic to a boil in a medium saucepan, and then whisked in the polenta. I let it come up to a simmer and cooked it slowly for about 20 minutes, when the polenta flarped and blorped as it thickened. I removed it from the heat, stirred in some mascarpone, butter and minced chives. I then put the polenta into a 9x13" pan and let it cool to room temperature:
After it had cooled, I covered the surface with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to await the final preparation the next day. With the polenta done and in the fridge, I did a few things around the house while the meat finished braising. This will sound totally nerdy, but the one thing I really dig about this French Laundry at Home project is learning more about how the smell of food progessively changes as it cooks. We all know that raw food and cooked food usually have two distinct scents, but I love being able to distinguish how the smells evolve as the cooking process unfolds. I love to braise meats, but I never really paid attention before to how, hour to hour, the smells change and get richer and more fragrant, and toward the end, even a little sweeter.
When the veal was done braising, I took the pot out of the oven (keeping the handles covered with pot holders so as to avoid new burn injuries), and removed the veal breast to a cutting board.
I removed the rib bones (they slid out with the greatest of ease) and removed all the nasty connective tissue, cartilage, and extraneous hunks of fat. I seasoned the veal with salt and pepper and folded it in half. I placed it on a baking sheet and covered it with another baking sheet, weighted it down with three giant bottles of Volvic, and put it in the fridge overnight.
I strained the braising liquid twice, let it cool to room temperature, and stored it in the fridge overnight. At this point, it was 2 a.m., so off to bed for me.
The next day, I set about finishing the dish so my friends and I could have it as a late lunch.
I got the strained braising liquid out of the fridge, scraped off the nasty, solidified fat from the top, and plopped it (it was a little gelatinous, which is normal) into my little Le Creuset pot to reduce until it had gotten to about 2C of liquid.
While the liquid was reducing, I peeled 8 cloves of garlic and blanched them a few times in water (instead of milk, as I've done before).
I also prepped the vegetable garnish by creating batons of carrot, turnip and celery root, as well as parisienne balls of beet. The French Laundry Cookbook instructs the user to make fluted ovals of turnip, but my knife skills aren't quite there yet. Parisienne balls I can do, thanks to my new, awesome #12 melon baller sent to me as a gift by someone I greatly, and not-so-secretly admire.
I blanched and ice-bathed the veggies in separate batches, and let them sit around for a few minutes while I got everything else ready:
The final preparation was a mad dash to the finish, and made me yearn for a six-burner cooktop. I cut eight rounds out of the veal and eight rounds out of the polenta using my 2" pastry cutter. I lightly floured the polenta rounds, and brushed some mustard on before lightly panko-ing the veal rounds, and cooked both in separate pans (with a wee bit of canola oil). I also melted some butter and sugar in a small sauté pan and tossed the garlic cloves in there to let them cook for a few minutes. I added some minced shallots, parsley and butter to the sauce (formerly known as the braising liquid reduction). And, I lightly sautéed the vegetables (minus the beet balls - ha! - which I added at the last minute) in canola oil, then added butter and chives before serving:
Despite the fact that what I wrote above makes it sound like "yeah, I whipped up some stuff and got it all done really easily at the end," it was a little wackadoo. So much going on all at the same time -- don't burn this, don't undercook that, did I remember to add butter here, is the heat off there??? Even though the environment I'd created was slightly crazy, I felt in total control and knew I knew what I was doing. Sometimes these dishes have so many elements and so many different preparations going on all at the same time that it can feel overwhelming. I think because my brain operates a certain way, I thrive in these kinds of circumstances. It somewhat mirrors my business life and why I am good at what I do professionally. But, I had no idea it would or could translate like this in the kitchen. One of the sales guys at Sur La Table told me that The French Laundry Cookbook is one of the most-returned cookbooks they sell. He said that people buy it, try one dish, fail, and return it. He smiled and said, "I guess they don't know how to read something before they do it. These dishes are special and need to be given special attention when you make them." He's right, to a certain degree, and this dish is a prime example of that. I'm not a professional cook or culinary expert -- not by any stretch of the imagination. But man, am I one organized chick who also happens to love food. So, this book and this way of cooking appeals to me on levels I never thought about before I started this project, but now that I'm doing it, it's really intuitive. In fact, the more I think about it, I've always cooked this way. I create a timeline and to-do list, I clean as I go, and I like to lay things out in an orderly progression. But enough about me, let's get to the money shot.
Everything was ready to go and just needed to be plated. I started first with a few tablespoons of the sauce, and topped it with a polenta round:
I topped that with a round of veal:
Lastly, I added the vegetables and garlic to the plate:
Can you smell it through the Internet? How I wish you could! This dish was amazing. The weather outside was perfect, the temperature and texture of the dish was so well suited, and the overall feel of all the elements as they came together was outstanding.
I served this around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and was thrilled to have my neighbor's son show up in his pajamas for the tasting. Granted, our front doors are 40 feet apart, so it's not like he had a long commute, but still. Let me explain. Here in the neighborhood, we have what are known as "Grant Tipton Days." This kind of day is named after my 10-year old neighbor kid, Grant Tipton, who has mastered the art of ultimate relaxation on a Saturday or Sunday by staying in his pajamas for a minimum of 24 hours. Grant and his brother are quite active in sports, school, and music, but every now and then, he just needs a day in pajamas that consists of waking up, eating breakfast, going back to bed for an hour, coming back downstairs to watch TV, eating lunch that someone else makes for you, reading a book, watching TV, taking another nap, eating dinner (bonus points when it's leftovers or takeout), taking a shower, then putting those pajamas back on again for the rest of the evening before bedtime. Grant Tipton Days are even better in the fall and winter when there's enough of a chill in the air that you really don't feel like leaving the house because getting out from under a cozy blanket and changing out of pajamas just seems ludicrous.
So, my advice to you is: if you feel the need to have a Grant Tipton Day, have someone make this veal and polenta dish for you. It's a perfect fit.
Up Next: Fricassée of Escargots with a Purée of Sweet Carrots, Roasted Shallots, and Herb Salad
Special Note: Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking is now available, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's really great. And, if you're interested in what Thomas Keller and other leading chefs would have as their last meal, or if you want to see Bourdain in the buff, check out My Last Supper. I know what I'd have as my last meal: a glass of Sancerre, steak with carmelized shallots and lardons, corn on the cob with tarragon butter, Oysters & Pearls (I know!), a few squares of dark chocolate, and a glass of scotch.
Veal breast from Union Meat Company at DC's Eastern Market
Edward & Sons organic panko
Produce and herbs from Whole Foods
Crave Brothers mascarpone
365 organic butter
Music to Cook By: Mocean Worker; Cinco de Mowo. Mocean Worker ("motion worker") is a one-man electronic DJ type o' dude I first heard on KCRW when I was in LA back in April. And, I've had the worst insomnia over the past few weeks, so I've seen "The Devil Wears Prada" nine bajillion times at 3 a.m., and Mocean Worker's "Tres Tres Chic" is in that movie. I needed to be focused when I made this dish because it involved lots of chopping and prep work, and Mocean Worker fit the bill. I usually don't like techno or anything techno-like, but I do like Mocean Worker. Give it a spin and see what you think.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
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