Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon

Ever since I saw Julie & Julia and received my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I've been dying to try to make Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon. I decided that Christmas Eve would be the day/night to do it. I knew this was a slow cooking recipe that would take some time, so I prepared myself by reading through the recipe the day before, shopping for the ingredients and giving myself plenty of time to make the dish. In fact, I made it in advance because Julia says the dish actually gets better the longer it sits because the flavors meld together. Perfect for me. So here it goes...the recipe and my experience with it.

Boeuf Bourguignon
6 ounce chunk of bacon
Dutch oven
1 tbs olive oil
3 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbs flour
3 cups full-bodied red wine
2-3 cups beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 tbs tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
Blanched bacon rind (**see note below about this)
18-24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock (see recipe below)
1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms, sauteed in butter (see recipe below)
Fresh parsley

1. Julia calls for a 6 oz. chunk of bacon still on the rind. I could not find this. I know there are specialty stores I could've gone to in order to get this, but I didn't have time, so I went with 6 oz. of bacon (no rind) and chopped it into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1.5 inches long). Simmer the bacon for 10 minutes in 1.5 quarts of water. Drain and dry.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
3. In the dutch oven, saute the bacon in the olive oil over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon, leaving all the bacon fat in the bottom of the dutch oven. Set dutch oven aside while you dry the beef.
4. Dry the beef in paper towels. It is imperative that you do this, so they will get a good sear on them. **My note here: my grocery store did not have good stewing meat. It all looked tough and oldish. Instead, I bought 3 lbs of fajita beef (non-seasoned) but in strips rather than chunks. It was gorgeous and looked to be cut from either a rump or chuck pot roast. Then reheat the casserole until the fat is almost smoking.
5. Saute the beef a few pieces at a time. Don't rush this and don't put in too much meat at once. This takes time but is so worth it, as each piece gets its own lovely brown crust. Add it to the bacon.
6. Once the meat is all seared, brown the veggies (carrot and onion) in the fat. If you have any remaining fat (I didn't), pour it out. Add the bacon and beef back to the dutch oven. Toss with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Put the uncovered dutch oven in the middle position of the preheated oven and cook for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return for 4 more minutes. This gives the meat a nice crust.
7. Remove the dutch oven and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
8. Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is covered. (For me, this was 3 cups of wine and 3 cups of beef stock.) Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs (thyme and bay leaf - not the parsley yet!!) and if using, the bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and put in bottom 1/3 of the oven. Simmer slowly for 2.5 - 3 hours. (I let mine go for 2 hours and 45 minutes, but I know my oven is accurate on temperature because I keep thermometer in there to be sure.) The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
9. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed. (See recipes below.)

This is what it looks like when it comes out of the oven before the onions and mushrooms are added and sauce is thickened.

10. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve (strainer) over a saucepan. **Julia says to wash out the casserole. There was no way I was going to wash out all that brown loveliness, so I didn't wash it out and I don't recommend you do either. Instead, scrape all that goodness off the sides and into the stew.** Return the stew (without the sauce) to the casserole. Distribute the onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Look at those gorgeous onions and mushrooms!!!

11. Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 and 1/2 cups of sauce (about right for me), thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. (I had to boil mine for about 8 minutes to get it thick enough for my taste.) Season appropriately. I added a bit more salt and quite a bit of black pepper. Pour over the meat and veggies. I then cooled it on the counter, covered it and put in the refrigerator until dinner time. When it was time, I slowly reheated it on the stove for 15-20 minutes (uncovered). Right before serving, I chopped fresh parsley and served it over the top.

This was an absolute delight! I served it with small red potatoes that I peeled, halved and sauteed in butter (Christmas time allows for a little indulgence!!) and a crusty rustic bread. Was it worth all the time and effort? YES!! The meat FELL apart in your mouth. The sauce was rich, flavorful and hearty. This may just become a tradition!!

Finished product!!!

Brown Braised Onions
18-24 small white onions, peeled
1.5 tbs butter
1/5 tbs oil
A 9-10 inch enameled skillet (I used stainless steel)
1/2 cup beef stock, dry white or red wine or water (I used beef stock)
Salt and pepper to taste
A medium herb bouquet (I used fresh rosemary, tarragon,thyme and parsley) wrapped in cheesecloth

1. When butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. **Some of mine broke...oh well!** You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.
2. Then, braise them by pouring in the liquid and adding the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes or until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape. Most of the liquid should evaporate. Remove the herb bouquet.

Sauteed Mushrooms
A 10 inch enameled skillet (I used cast iron)
4 tbs butter
2 tbs oil
1 lb quartered fresh mushrooms

1. Place skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4-5 minutes. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat. Don't crowd the mushrooms, or they will steam. Give each mushroom its own space.

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