Glazed and dazed

Chef’s stuffed cabbage and lentil stew

It’s the start of a new week and I’m in the neighbouring regions of Limousin and Auvergne. Limousin, home of course to the prized cattle and the cherry clafoutis. Did you know that most of the UK’s beef herd are Limousin? I’m a big fan of Puy lentils. Their nutty flavor is attributed to the volcanic soil they’re grown in. Apparently there are 450 volcanoes across these regions of France. The lack of humidity and abundant sunshine in the Auvergne ensures that the lentils dry on the plant. Consequently, they contain less starch and don’t get all mushy when cooked. There’s something called a Truffade where cheese is used to bind sliced potatoes and bacon together to form a potato cake. I like the sound of that. There’s also a big oval sausage with a great name—sac d’os, which translates to “bag of bones”. It’s either salt-cured, which is soaked at home before being cooked, or dried after curing. The bag, so to speak, is a large pig intestine filled with pork pieces on the bone. Mmmm.

Today’s dish is the second possible exam dish for Intermediate Cuisine. Choux Farci aux Lentilles Vertes du Puys. It’s stuffed cabbage, glazed, and served with green Puy lentils and glazed vegetables. A busy dish at full sprint for 2 hours. This was the first time I broke a sweat. Key is getting the cabbage in the oven as early as possible. It’s also unforgiving. Get the braise wrong and there’s no flavour.

Here we go. Outer leaves from a Savoy cabbage were blanched and refreshed to make them pliable, then laid in-between paper towels to dry. Any stalks proud of the leaves were shaved and the leaves rolled with a rolling pin to break down their structure.

The stuffing was a Farce—a mix of minced veal, pork and pork fat, cooled sweated onions, a Panade and parsley. The Panade is a Liaison or thickening agent made with a starch and liquid, in this case cubes of bread and milk beaten into a paste with my knuckles and fingers. Once incorporated into the meat you shouldn’t see any bread in the mix. The Panade helps retain the moisture forced out of the meat during cooking, keeping the meatball nice and juicy. Tester fried and tasted. Seasoning adjusted.

A cabbage leaf was set out on wet muslin cloth and a large ball of stuffing placed at the centre. The corners of the muslin were then gathered together to bring the leaf around the meat. The muslin was twisted tightly to press the leaf and its contents into a neat parcel. The parcel was wrapped in caul fat and placed in the fridge to dry and set.

Rind was removed from a chunk of bacon and lardons were cut. Fat was rendered from the rind and the lardons were blanched and refreshed. Time to start building flavour. Mirepoix was well browned in the rind fat and deglazed with cold veal stock off the heat. The cabbage parcels were added with a trusty Bouquet Garni. Cartouche. Lid. Oven. Relax? No way.

The lentils were blanched in water for 2 minutes and drained. This ensures that once they enter the stock they absorb flavour from the get-go. Carrot, onion and celery were cut Macedoine and sweated without taking on colour. Lardons, lentils, another Bouquet Garni and veal stock were added and brought to the simmer. Lid on. When the lentils were cooked the stew was sieved and the liquor reduced down to about 2 tablespoons worth. That’s flavour. It’s important not to take it too far because it can burn since the lentils have some starch in them. The lentils and vegetables were them folded through the sticky goodness.

Check on the cabbage. Once the centre of the cabbage parcels read higher than 72C, they were decanted and the Braisage passed through a chinois. This was returned to the pan with the cabbage, then back into the oven for the caul to melt and take on colour. More flavour. The cabbage was decanted once again and the Braisage reduced on the hob. The final act was to take a small amount of Braisage into a separate pan with the cabbage parcels and reduce it to a syrup, glazing the cabbages constantly. Even more flavour.

Somewhere along the way I managed to peel baby onions to a consistent size, turn out some pretty decent turned carrots, and get a good glaze on them both during cooking.

Glazed turned carrots

Glazed baby onions

My attempt at stuffed cabbage

Any screw-ups? Mais oui, but of course.

I boiled the Braisage too quickly, which made it cloudy and basically torpedoed my degreasing efforts. It did taste good though. My lentils were slightly overcooked with some just starting to break. My carrots were over too.

On the whole, given it’s first time through this exam dish, I was happy with my timing and the result. The chervil garnish is missing in the photograph but it was served up.