Sunday, January 18, 2015

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon by Tom

Boeuf Bourguignon
(Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms)

Continuing on with our French food adventure, Barbara asked me to make Beef, or Boeuf, Bourguignon.  How hard can that be, I thought.  Just throw a piece of beef into a stew pot with a bottle of wine and bake for several hours.  She added one caveat.  It must be done as Julia Child does it.  No skipping of steps and no additions.  Follow the recipe to the letter.  Not my normal approach to cooking.

We had just watched "Season 10 Top Chef Boston" with Jacques Pepin and saw how the professional chefs struggled with the techniques of Julia Child.  So I knew I had my work cut out for me.

However it turns out that if you follow her instructions from her cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", you really can prepare a very good beef bourguignon.  It just requires patience and following her technique.

So, here goes.  Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child as mastered by me.

            ---Tom

Boeuf Bourguignon
Beef Stew with Red Wine, Bacon, Onions and Mushrooms
(Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck)

Serves 6

3 pounds lean stewing meat...I used a top round steak...cut into 2" cubes with most visible fat and silver skin removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups...one bottle...red wine
2-3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf crumbled
6 ounces bacon plus rind from salt pork

18-24 small peeled white onions...these will be prepared separately and added later
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup beef stock
Herb bouquet: 1 tablespoon dry parsley, 1/2 bay leaf crumbled, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme all tied in a cheesecloth
Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms...these will be prepared separately and added later
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Slice the bacon into 1"-2" pieces.  The rind as well.
Into a saucepan put 1 1/2 quarts of water.  Add the bacon and the rind, and simmer for 10 minutes.  This renders some of the fat from the bacon.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  The oven rack should be in the lower third of the oven.

Remove the bacon and rind from the simmering water.  Put the rind aside as you will put that in later.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the casserole dish that you will be using for cooking the meal.  Sauté the bacon for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove the bacon from the casserole with a slotted spoon to a side dish.
Reheat the fat until it is almost smoking.  Dry the beef with a paper towel, and sauté it until it is nicely browned on all sides.  It is important to dry the beef before sautéing because it will not brown if it is damp.  It will steam instead.
Once sautéed, remove the beef to the plate with the bacon.
Slice the carrot and onion.  Note my "Happy Face" spoon.
Sauté the vegetables in the casserole.  Once they are golden, remove from the heat and drain as much of the sautéing fat as possible.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with salt and pepper.  Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to lightly coat the meat.  I did this in two steps to insure all of the meat had a coating.
Now place the casserole uncovered in your 450 degree oven for 4 minutes.  After 4 minutes, pull it out and stir it up.  Place back in the oven for another 4 minutes.  This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.  Once the time is up, remove from the oven and turn the temperature down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine and enough beef stock so that meat is barely covered.  Add the tomato paste, garlic, crumbled bay leaf, thyme, salt, and bacon rind.  Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.  Then cover the casserole and set it in the lower third of the oven.  Regulate the oven heat up a little or down a little to insure that the liquid simmers for the next 3-4 hours.  The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is simmering in the oven, it is time to prepare the small onions and mushrooms.  We'll do the mushrooms first.

In a large skillet over high heat, melt the butter and oil.  As soon as you see the foam from the butter start to subside, add the quartered mushrooms.  Toss and shake the pan as you sauté the mushrooms.  To get a golden brown on the mushrooms will take 7-10 minutes depending on the size of the mushrooms you are using.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Once the mushrooms are golden brown, remove from the skillet and put on a plate.  Set these aside as these will be added to the casserole near the end of the cooking.
Now it is time to sauté the onions.  In a smaller skillet, heat the butter and the oil.  When it starts to bubble, add the onions.  Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes, rolling them around in the pan so that they will brown as evenly as possible.  Julia says that you cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

Once you have browned the onions, add the 1/2 cup of beef stock and herb bouquet.  Bring to a simmer, cover the pan, and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes.  The liquid should be pretty much fully evaporated and the onions will be soft and tender.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from the pan and put on the plate with the mushrooms.  These will be added later in the cooking cycle.

Note: our cheesecloth "disappeared", so I had to improvise.  I used a small strainer, placed the herbs in that, and placed it in the center of the skillet.  It worked very well.  My only adaptation of Julia's technique.  I think she would have approved.
Near the end of the 3-4 hour cooking cycle, find a medium sauce pan and place a large strainer on top of it.
When the meat is tender, remove the casserole from the oven.  You will see that some of the liquid has evaporated even though covered throughout the cooking cycle.
Dump the contents into the strainer over the sauce pan.  Rinse and clean the casserole while the meat is draining.
From the strainer transfer the beef and bacon back into the cleaned casserole dish.  Don't worry if you get a few stray pieces of carrot or onion.  Add the previously prepared mushrooms and small onions into the casserole with the beef and bacon.
From the sauce pan, skim off any fat that has accumulated on the surface.  Heat the mixture a little to bring a little bit more fat to the surface.  Skim it off as best you can.  You should have about 2 1/2 cups of liquid.  Dip a spoon in.  It should be coated lightly.  If too little, boil it down a bit.  If too thick, add some beef stock.  Taste carefully for seasoning.  Salt and pepper accordingly.
Add the liquid back into the casserole and stir the mixture up.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Serve.
I complemented the beef bourguignon with small yellow potatoes and French style green beans.

Using Julia Child's technique was a labor of love.  But what it produced was well worth the effort.

Bon appetit!


   ---Tom


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