How can I tell a ragoût from a civet or daube?

There seem to be numerous names for stew in France – what is the difference, for example, between a daube, civet and ragoût? G.H

1 November 2016
By Oliver Rowland

The differences are subtle. The executive chef at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, Alain Le Cossec, explains: “All three of these dishes require us to gently simmer the meat. The differences lie in the type of meat used and in the way that it is prepared.”

A ragoût is usually made with beef, veal or lamb and also contains a garniture aromatique, which comprises the accompanying vegetables, including some elements that are full of flavour, such as onions, carrots, and celery. Mr Le Cossec said it is ideal to make a mirepoix of your vegetables, by chopping them into small cubes.

The meat is cut into pieces, seasoned and gently fried. Once browned, it is removed from the pan and the garniture is added in its place. Once this has begun to turn golden, the meat is returned and liquid (wine or stock, or a mixture) is added along with a little flour. You then cover the pan and leave it to cook at a gentle heat, either in the oven or on the hob.

In spring, for example, you might choose lamb and beans and cook them in white wine and water. In the winter, you might use beef and red wine. Famous ragoût variants include boeuf bourguignon, which uses red burgundy, and navarin of lamb, which uses spring vegetables such as turnips, carrots and potatoes.

Daube is provençal in origin and is traditionally cooked in a daubière: a clay pot with a round belly, an indented lid, and a single handle. It uses beef, or occasionally lamb.

The difference from a ragoût is that the meat is marinated, preferably for at least 24 hours before cooking. For beef it will usually involve red wine, or for lamb, white wine. “The marinade makes the meat more tender and adds a depth of flavour and colour,” said Mr Le Cossec. After marinating, the meat should be thoroughly drained, before being seasoned, and then the method of cooking is the same as for a ragoût.

A civet is similar to a daube, but is made from game, such as rabbit, boar or venison. This in turn influences the components of the garniture aromatique, which is more likely to contain juniper, or cloves: flavours which work well with game.

A civet also has a sauce which involves blood, either taken from the meat itself or some pork blood obtained from the butcher. This is added (along with a little cream and cognac) at the end of the cooking. Mr Le Cossac advises tipping out some of the hot sauce made from wine or stock over the blood before you add it back to the meat and vegetables.

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