Sunday, October 25, 2009

Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon

Julia on the left, Meryl Streep portraying her on the right in Julie & Julia

I did it! On Friday, I printed out a copy of Julia's famous version of the timeless French recipe and off I went to the market to pick up the ingredients for Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon! Since seeing Julie and Julia, I have been dying to make it, so I talked a client into it and tacked it onto Friday's menu.

My style of cooking is typically an improvisational game consisting of flavor balancing, adapting the new to the old, and generally just feeling my way through the ingredients, while inspired by traditional flavors and technique. When I do follow a recipe to the number, it is usually what I focus on in the beginning of the cooking day and I just get through it, so I can jump back into an inventive groove and get back to "my" cuisine. Little did I know, Julia was about to keep me in check and hold me in the recipe game for hours...I mean all day.

The recipe is actually not complicated, but like most French food, technique, timing, and following instructions count--big time. This recipe requires attention in the first 20 or so steps, that's right, the first 20 steps. After the stew is put in the oven to cook for 3 or 4 hours, you are not finished. There are other steps to prepare, not complicated ones, but they are steps nonetheless. Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon is not a recipe to just tack on to an already varied and complex menu. I could have spent all day savoring each step and smelling this fragrant dish as it came together. Alas, that wasn't my day. I made it through, though, preparing the entire menu, and managing to enjoy myself despite occasionally nearing a kitchen meltdown. I think Julia would have been proud. Here it is. Remember, pat the meat dry. If any of you make it or have made it, I would love to hear any comments or reflections about your experience.

Boeuf Bourguignon a La Julia Child
adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"

For the Stew
6 ounces bacon, solid chunk
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine (a full bodied wine like Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Chianti)
2-3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, mashed (you may choose to add more)
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf

For the braised onions

18-24 white pearl onions, peeled
1 1 /2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup beef stock
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
2 sprigs parsley

For the sauteed mushrooms

1 lb mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. First prepare the bacon: cut off the rind and reserve.
2. Cut the bacon into lardons about 1/4" thick and 1 1/2" long.
3. Simmer the rind and the lardons for ten minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water.
4. Drain and dry the lardons and rind and reserve.
5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. Put the tablesoon of olive oil in a large (9"-10"wide, 3"deep) fireproof casserole and warm over moderate heat.
7. Saute the lardons for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly.
8. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
9. Dry off the pieces of beef and saute them, a few at at a time in the hot oil/bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides.
10. Once browned, remove to the side plate with the bacon.
11. In the same oil/fat, saute the onion and the carrot until softened.
12. Pour off the fat and return the lardons and the beef to the casserole with the carrots and onion.
13. Toss the contents of the casserole with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the flour.
14. Set the uncovered casserole in the oven for four minutes.
15. Toss the contents of the casserole again and return to the hot oven for 4 more minutes.
16. Now, lower the heat to 325 degrees and remove the casserole from the oven.
17. Add the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered.
18. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs and the bacon rind.
19. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
20. Cover and place in the oven, adjusting the heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly for three to four hours.
21. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
22. While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms and set them aside till needed.
23. For the onion, if using frozen, make sure they are defrosted and drained.
24. Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet and add the onions to the skillet.
25. Saute over medium heat for about ten minutes, rolling the onions about so they brown as evenly as possible, without breaking apart.
26. Pour in the stock, season to taste, add the herbs, and cover.
27. Simmer over low heat for about 40-50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has mostly evaporated.
28. Remove the herbs and set the onions aside.
29. For the mushrooms, heat the butter and oil over high heat in a large skillet.
30. As soon as the foam begins to subside, add athe mushrooms and toss and shake the pan for about five minutes.
31. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
32.To Finish the Stew:
33. When the meat is tender, remove the casserole from the oven and empty it's contents into a sieve set over a saucepan.
34. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it (discarding the bits of carrot and onion and herbs which remain in the sieve).
35. Distribute the mushrooms and onions over the meat.
36. Skim the fat off the surface an simmer it for a minute or two, skimming off any additional fat which rises to the surface.
37. You should be left with about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
38. If the sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of stock.
39. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency.
40.Taste for seasoning.
41. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
42. If you are serving immediately, place the covered casserole over medium low heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.
43. Serve in the casserole or on a warm platter surrounded by noodles, potatoes, or rice and garnished with fresh parsley.
44. If serving later or the next day, allow the casserole to cool and place cold, covered casserole in the refrigerator.
45. 20 minutes prior to serving, place over medium low heat and simmer very slowly for ten minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.


Deborah said...

I have made Boeuf Borg. a few times and Coq au Vin a few dozen times (which is basically the same recipe with chicken instead of beef). You get used to the procedure after a while and it is a really wonderful lesson of a broad spectrum of French cooking techniques all in one recipe. ALL meat must be dried before browning, for example.
Once you internalize the techniques you will never have to look at that recipe again and you can really get into your groove and make it your own. It is indeed a labor of love, but worth the effort.

I LOVED that you numbered the steps! very funny and a very true picture of what you are getting yourself into.

Catherine Barker Hoffman said...

Yes! I do feel like I was reminded of old rules that I may have abandoned (or never learned in the first place!) and definitely learned something from the experience. I think once was enough for now and feel it's in me, especially now that I have typed it.

My friend, Christine, who is classically trained texted me that morning, "Don't forget to PAT THE MEAT DRY" I'll never skip that again.

Norma said...

Hi! Just stumbled on this and wanted to chime in. I made it New Year's eve and it was delicious, however I would want to use a better cut of meat next time because it was too "stew-ish." And I know, it's a stew, however, with all of that work, I was hoping that the meat would have melted in my mouth. I wish that "lean stewing beef" in the recipe was better defined. I went with a rump roast after searching on the internet for best cuts, but I wonder if a choice steak or something like that would have been better....?? I guess I could have asked the butcher, which is probably what Julia would have done!

Catherine Barker Hoffman said...

Welcome Norma! I'm trying to recall which cut of beef I used and I can't remember. I did go to the butcher at Whole Foods and asked him. It may have been a flank cut??

kalyani said...

do we hv to take any precautions while buying the beef???... pls rply as m planning to make it 2morro...