The last time (could it have been the only time?) I ever ate quenelles was at a restaurant in Paris in 2008. I blogged about that meal. What I had was one large quenelle (link to picture) made with the flesh of a river fish called a brochet — pike — in a sauce béchamel and gratinée au four. The quenelles I made yesterday were smaller and made with turkey. Preparing them was a long process — a weekend project, maybe, unless you are retired like me — but the result was not disappointing. They were delicious — delicate and light. Here's how you do it.
To make quenelles, first you make a panade. That's what the Larousse Gastronomique says to do. Julia Child and other recipe writers say to make a pâte à choux — a batch of cream puff dough, a.k.a. choux pastry. That's the same thing plus eggs. In other words, the panade has no eggs in it. It's water, butter, salt, and flour. Nothing more.
The word panade [pah-NAHD] might make you think of pain — not English "pain" but "bread" in French — so you might think it would be made with breadcrumbs. The Larousse specifies flour in one recipe, however, and breadcrumbs or mashed potatoes in two others. The Robert dictionary thinks a panade is something entirely different: a bread soup. It gets confusing.
The panade will be the base for the quenelles — dumplings poached in water or broth. The other ingredient is some finely ground poultry, veal, fish, or vegetables. Cheese quenelles would be good — maybe with goat cheese. The dictionary says the word quenelle comes from an Alsatian word, Knödel, meaning "a lump of dough." You can see the word "noodle" in there.
The American Heritage dictionary says the origin of the English word "dumpling" is unknown. The root word "dump" in there doesn't do much for the dumpling's culinary reputation, I think. So let's call these quenelles, not dumplings. They are a little bit like Italian gnocchi, but with meat or fish in the mixture.
Here's how you make a panade using flour, which is probably the easiest recipe — no need for breadcrumbs or cooked potatoes. Get these ingredients together:
300 ml of water (1¼ U.S. cups, or 10 fl. oz)Put the water in a saucepan to boil. Drop in the butter. When the butter is melted and the water is boiling, dump in the flour and salt. Stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon over low heat until you have a neat lump of pastry that pulls away from the sides of the saucepan. It takes only about 5 minutes to make. What takes longer is waiting for the panade to cool down. Put it in the refrigerator for at least two hours, or overnight.
50 g of butter (half a stick, or 4 Tbsp.)
150 g of flour (1 U.S. cup, or 8 fl. oz.)
1 tsp. salt
If you are in the U.S., you can probably buy ground turkey or chicken at the supermarket. We can't, here in Saint-Aignan, so we buy meat and grind it ourselves. In this case, I bought what they call blanquette de dinde. That's turkey wings — only the first joint, the meatiest one. It's white meat. You could use chicken or turkey breast, bien sûr.
Because I buy turkey wings, first I have to de-bone them, of course. That's not so much trouble, really, using a very sharp knife, and for the difference in price it's worth my trouble. You cut the meat off the bones and then cut away the skin and any tendons and as much other connective tissue as you can. All the trimmings, including the bones, go into the stock pot to make the poaching liquid. You need a little more than a pound of boneless turkey meat — let's say about 1¼ lbs.
Run the turkey meat through a meat grinder using the finest blade. Run it through twice. Then put the ground turkey in the food processor with about a half a stick of slightly softened butter and four eggs. You might be able to skip the meat grinder step and just grind up chunks of meat in the food processor — give it a try. Let the food processor run until the mixture is very smooth.
Here's a recap of the quenelle ingredients:
550 g of turkey or chicken white meat, pureedThe ground meat will end up pureed after it turns in the food processor for three or four minutes. The old-fashioned way to puree the meat is to use a mortar and pestle.
50 g of butter
500 g of panade (recipe above)
2 or 3 Tbsp. of heavy cream (crème fraîche)
salt, pepper, nutmeg, and herbs
Then add the panade, which should be completely cold after sitting in the refrigerator overnight or at least for a couple of hours. It should be about the same amount as the meat by weight — the amount the panade recipe above makes, just over a pound. Cut it up into small pieces and let the food processor mix it in. If the bowl of the food processor is too small (mine was), transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix in the panade into the meat in that. Also add several tablespoons of crème fraîche or heavy cream — enough to get the consistency you want.
The mixture should be pretty stiff, but it might seem sticky. That's okay. When it's well mixed, put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so that it has time to firm up completely. If you want, you can mix in a half cup of chopped parsley (my choice) or some other herb. Don't forget to add salt (a tablespoon for this quantity) and pepper (a teaspoon). A good pinch (or grating) of nutmeg adds good flavor. Use other spices as you like.
Making the quenelles themselves turned out to be easy. Just take two big soup spoons (or smallish serving spoons) and put them in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes. Take one out and scoop up a spoonful of the dumpling mixture. Take the second spoon and scoop the contents of the first spoon out with it. You should already have a football-shaped (rugby-ball-shaped) quenelle already. Repeat the process as many times as necessary. It's easier than it might sound.
Drop the quenelles into simmering water or broth and let them cook for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how big they are. The ones we made were slightly bigger than a large hen's egg and we let them simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Turn them over a few times during the cooking so that they get done evenly. With four eggs in them, they will hold together well.
Serve the quenelles de volaille — poultry dumplings — with a sauce. We made a creamy curried pumpkin sauce to go with ours. The dumplings are slightly bland, so you want a rich accompaniment. Tomato sauce would be excellent. Or a béchamel or cheese sauce. Or just olive oil or melted butter with garlic, for example. If you make smaller quenelles, you can have them floating in soup. You can't really go wrong. Try them on a bed of steamed or sauteed spinach, topped with grated cheese and browned lightly in a hot oven.
Quenelles are a little bit like meatballs and a little bit like dumplings. Julia Child calls them "this delicate triumph of French cooking." They have a very nice, light texture, and a good clean taste. They will puff up a little and start to float in the poaching liquid as they cook. My recipe will make at least 20, or maybe 30, quenelles of the size we made, and that could easily serve four or even six as a main course.