filling the empty nest with food
So. let’s make some quenelles. Some what, you ask? Has anyone out there heard of these? I had a vague recollection of hearing about quenelles when I studied abroad in France, but I don’t think I ever ate them and I was always a little fuzzy on the specifics. I knew they were white and I thought they might be some kind of delicate sausage.
Well, I wasn’t too far off. As you can see, they are white. My shaping technique leaves a bit to be desired, but you get the general idea of what they’re supposed to look like.
Quenelles are in the dumpling family, but lighter and more delicate. You start by puréeing fish, or chicken (which I used), then there’s quite a bit of variety after that. They typically call for a panade, something starchy to bind the meat and help hold it together, but sometimes the binding agent is just egg whites. I used pâte à choux dough (cream puff dough–without the cream filling!), which includes eggs, butter, flour, and milk. (It’s not actually that hard to make, believe it or not.) Then, later I added egg whites and heavy cream. How could it not be light and delicate–and rich, all at the same time?
Back in the day before food processors, you had to have several willing kitchen servants to pound the meat into a paste. Now, a food processor mixes it all up in a snap.
You can make the shaping easy (piping them from a pastry bag) or a challenge, depending on whether you want to experiment with the traditional shape. Traditional shaping takes place with two soup spoons–ideally making an oval or cylinder shape with a distinctive line running vertically down the middle. But, I have a feeling it takes lots and lots of practice to get the shape right. (At least, that’s my excuse.) See this very short video of a French housewife expertly shaping a quenelle before dropping it in poaching liquid. She’s my idol.
So, you poach quenelles to cook them–in either hot water, water flavored with mirepoix, or stock. Be sure to have all ingredients cold and keep the quenelle mixture cold until poaching. As per usual, Escoffier gives us minimal instructions: “mold the quenelles into an oval form and poach them.” Got it?
In case you need a little more help, here is my recipe:
Make the panade: 65 grams flour, 2 egg yolks, 45 grams melted butter, 1 gram salt, a pinch of pepper and of grated nutmeg, 125 milliliters milk. Mix the flour and egg yolks in a saucepan with a spatula, over medium heat until thick. Add in the butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix in the milk little by little. Cook it, stirring constantly, for about 5 to 6 minutes, until it’s thick. Let cool.
Purée in a food processor one pound of chilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces. Add in 6 grams of salt, 1 gram pepper, 1/2 gram grated nutmeg. Add in 3 egg whites a little at a time and mix well. Add 200 grams of panade and process until smooth.
Chill in the refrigerator until cold. When it’s well chilled, mix in well 3/4 liter of heavy cream. (Escoffier’s recipe calls for A LOT of cream. I couldn’t bring myself to subject my arteries to that much heavy cream, so I cut the amount in half, and they turned out fine.)
Be sure the final mixture is chilled, and poach your quenelles in barely simmering water or stock (don’t let it boil!) for 12-15 minutes.
These are light and don’t have a strong flavor, so they can take a strongly flavored sauce. You can also use them as dumplings in a chicken consommé or light soup. My sauce in the photo is Sauce Aurore (a combination of velouté sauce and puréed tomatoes).