Talk about a pendulum swing. The first of my March Julia Child recipes was arguably the easiest in the book, and admittedly, I chose it for that reason - I was within 12 hours of my deadline for the first week and needed something fast. But what possessed me to try boeuf bourguignon as my next attempt I do. not. know. Ok, that’s a lie, I do know. It was a combination of this, this (see also: this), a promise, and the guilt that accompanies a cookbook sitting on the shelf for two years. I jumped into a pot of wine and stock with both feet, and though I didn’t end up in over my head, I think I might have gotten up to my neck.
There may be some people out there who have successfully accomplished this meal and are wondering why it was such an undertaking for me to make this dish. Why I used almost every pot, knife, and spoon I owned. Why I don’t want to think about making it again for, say, 4 or 5 years. To the explanation below, please add a teething 10-month-old, a dirty house to clean, a mountain of laundry to fold, and subtract 3 hours from the beginning of the day. There. That’s why.
I started pretty early in the day, about 11:00a.m. I chopped (or rather hacked – I am NOT a butcher, people, and even if I was I’m pretty sure I’d still need new knives). I blanched. I sautéed. All the prep work took forever (literally – in my head I’m still browning meat). I finally, finally, got ready to put part A into the oven. I put it all in my casserole dish and then put the casserole on the burner to bring it to a simmer. A few minutes later I smelled something burning, looked over, and my casserole dish had a long crack in it. I FREAKED OUT. I called my mom, who of course did not miraculously materialize with a new dish. I didn’t have anything else big enough, and I was justthisclose to hysterical tears when my mom had the BRILLIANT idea of using the pot piece of my crock pot and jerry-rigging a lid. Problem solved!
The recipe called for ¾ of a bottle of wine. By the time I was done cooking it, seven and a half hours later, the last ¼ of that bottle was looking pretty good. My family, for whom I made it (and seriously, you better read this post) arrived to partake and I realized with a start that I had totally forgotten to make a side dish, or vegetables, or bread. So I threw some frozen veggies on the stove and for a starchy side with our eight-hour-hair-ripping-out-feet-aching-you-better-love-this-or-I’m-never-speaking-to-you-again-no-you-may-NOT-put-Ranch-dressing-on-it-and-pronounce-it-in-French-s'il-vous-plaît dinner we had Lipton noodles.
At some point in my mad day of cooking (which, by the way, also included two friends coming over to visit at separate times, laundry, and cleaning up the house) I sort of forgot to keep taking pictures. Today is the day I prove to you that I am a better cook than photographer, though I do try. Good Morning America was so kind as to put this recipe online, and I am copying and annotating it so you can know what I did differently, and why.
By the way, my portion tasted the best of all, because it was absolutely smothered in a sense of accomplishment.
Originally from Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Copied from ABC.
- One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon My grocery store didn’t have chunk bacon, so they directed me to pork jowl bacon instead. I had no idea how to cut it and I ended up cutting off a lot of the fat because it grossed me out. In retrospect, I probably should have used more for flavor.
- 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes I used a top round, I believe. Also, I cut mine into 1-inch cubes because 2 inches just seemed too big to me. It worked fine.
- 1 carrot, sliced I used 2 small carrots.
- 1 onion, sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy) I used a 10-dollar bottle of Chianti.
- 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cloves mashed garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- A crumbled bay leaf
- 18 to 24 white onions, small Oh my word, how hard is it to find these onions? Apparently impossible, so I just chopped a regular yellow onion into large chunks.
- 3 1/2 tablespoons butter
- Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth) I used dried herbs and guessed at the amount.
- 1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered
- Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. For all of the sautéing, I just did it in a regular pan and transferred it later. I wanted to use my casserole dish but it wasn’t really the right shape to make that possible.
- Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.
- In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
- Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
- Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.
- Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).
- Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
- Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered. Now, in my completely-wrong-shaped pan, I was afraid it would cook wrong or take longer or something, but everything worked out fine.
- Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
- Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
- While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
- Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
- Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
- Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
- Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside. Because I had smaller pieces of onion, I only simmered it for about a half-hour.
- Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.
- Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat. It took 2 batches to keep from “crowding the mushrooms.”
- When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
- Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.
- Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. Is it bad that I couldn’t find fat to skim off, so I just left it in there?
- If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.
- Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. It finished a while before we were ready to eat, so I just kept mine warm in the crock-pot, which worked out great since I was already cooking it in the crock pot pot anyways.
- Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley. Or serve buffet-style because you’re too tired to arrange it nicely. Whatever.