One of our everyday culinary challenges is working around my wife’s allergy to gluten. It’s not as tough a problem as some people think, because she can have gluten-free bread and pasta, and has no trouble eating other normal starches like potatoes and rice. On top of that, more and more restaurants are sensitive to the problem of celiac disease, and can offer alternatives.
Still, we do have to read lists of ingredients very carefully, because various versions of wheat proteins are worked into a huge variety of common processed foods. (Did you know that wheat is a major ingredient in most soy sauces? Seriously.)
Recently on a trip to the supermarket, we discovered some sauce mixes that are gluten-free, and thought we’d give them a try. Of course you can thicken sauces with corn starch, or by making a roux with gluten-free flour, but the mixes promised a bit more, including more flavouring. So we bought the packages for white sauces (which I tried successfully with my version of blanquette de veau) as well as for brown sauces (see the photo).
Late last week, we had bought some meat at the butcher’s shop we like in Castelnaud, about 10 kilometres north of Daglan, and planned to have the veal chops on Sunday (yesterday). My plan was to sear the chops, and then bake them for a fairly short time in the oven with a sauce chasseur, or hunter’s sauce. Here’s how it worked out:
First I melted some butter, and then sautéed a finely chopped shallot in the pan. Then I poured in a generous glug of Armagnac, and flamed it off. Once the fire died down (you’ll be pleased to learn that no damage was done to the house), I added some sliced white mushrooms, a cup or so of chicken stock, a splash of white wine, and a bit of tomato paste (which we always buy in a tube, and you should too). Once this was bubbling away nicely, I added a couple of tablespoons full of the Maizena sauce mix, stirred for a minute or two and — voila! — there was a pretty creditable sauce chasseur.
The chops looked lovely and brown after a short searing, and then I put them in the oven for 20 minutes with the sauce, and with the pan covered in aluminum foil. The result? The sauce was actually delicious, and the veal tasted very good — although it was a bit tough. We think the problem was over-cooking caused by the oven-baking; what I should have done was to simply sauté the chops in the pan.
In any case, the meal looked pretty good. Here’s Sunday lunch, including green beans and sliced potatoes that I had finished in a pan with lardons (small pieces of bacon), salt and pepper, paprika for colour, and a touch of piment d’Espelette (a mild French pepper) for a bit of heat.
If you have a particularly sharp eye for nice touches, you will have seen the Laguiole knife at the right of the plate. (Laguiole knives are named for their original place of manufacture in the south of France, but are now made by any number of manufacturers. In any case, we love ours, and I now sharpen them after every use.) You might also have noticed that the knife is leaning on an unusual knife rest — something in silver that looks like a pig with a very long body — and you would be right.
We have a set of four of these babies, which were gifts from our good friends Kathy and Keith, who, like us, are charter members of the Wild Forest Pig Contrada. That’s the mildly famous tri-nation organization (Canada, the U.S., and France) that we founded (with help from several other friends) on a bike trip to Tuscany in the fall of 1997, and which flourishes today. Here’s a close-up of the handsome pig:
These knife rests are brought out only for special occasions, like Sunday lunches. Or any time we have a nice meal at home. Okay, to be honest, that’s fairly often.