Boeuf Bourguignon

3 words: I did it! This is my second attempt at Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon (beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onions, and mushrooms). I love the way how tomato paste works with meat in a carefully chosen red wine — the mixture of the herbs/spices, beef stock and red wine, along with the tenderness of the properly seasoned beef stew and careful browning both meat and vegetables,  made the sauce a delight to accompany with pasta or mashed potatoes. The consistency of the sauce should be that of a potato gravy — not too thick nor too thin/runny.

While this is quite the difficult recipe to master, it took a bit of watching Julia Child doing it on DVD and remembering not to follow the recipe step-by-step as oven temperatures might vary — cooking any challenging dishes also implies that you have to be in the moment and understand how you are building the flavours. Failing this recipe the first time was a blessing: I have learnt that you always have to do a taste test — otherwise you will be very disappointed when you serve your dish 6 hours later. “Pat your meat dry with paper towels, or they will not brown.” She also added, “Do not overcrowd your meat and mushrooms, otherwise they will not brown.” Her book further suggested using the oven to simmer at 325F will ensure the heat is evenly distributed. Stew can be prepared stove-top as well, but it will be your preference as there are many ways to prepare a good beef stew.

When it comes to wine choices, I chose a red Italian Chianti. Make sure the wine is a robust kind of red — i.e. no tartness and definitely no bitterness. According to The French Chef (DVD), if you were to choose burgundy for the sauce, you would have to change up your wine pairings a little bit.

While I may not type out Julia Child’s recipe word for word from page 313 of my copy (and run into potential copyrights infringement), the publishing group has provided a scanned copy. This dish may be difficult if you have never tasted much French cuisine (which is true in my case). The recipe is only meticulous because it appears to use the most careful and traditional methods of preparation. But hey, I have been collecting authentic recipes — authentic recipes are most likely traditional as well. Also, keep in mind that if we were to follow Julia Child’s recipe step-by-step, be prepared to free up at least 5 to 6 hours of cooking. Time seems to be a luxury these days, but cooking this dish ahead of time will only help the meat develop its flavour.

Things I did that was not on the book: I pre-seasoned my beef with a bit of salt and pepper. Meat always tends to absorb flavour better when lightly seasoned prior to browning. Nonetheless, using Julia Child’s French Chef advice, heating up olive oil will help prevent your simmered (and pat-down dried) bacon from burning. Also, forget about measuring your wine — it really depends on how much meat you have got. I made enough for 4 servings, so I only used approximately less than half a bottle.

On my first attempt, I tried watching adaptations of Julia Child’s recipe on Youtube. I so shouldn’t have — first of all, the equipment we have got on hand is different from what others use. Ideally, I would have loved to have a Le Creuset Dutch oven, but owning one is way out of my budget! (As you can see in the picture, it is a really old Corningware, possibly from the 70s! Older than I am!) If you have a cast iron wok (with a lid), you can skip the oven part. Your wok will absorb all the flavours nicely as long as you season your wok with cooking oil. The original recipe intends to build its flavour along the way from sauteeing the bacon to cooking the sliced vegetables in the bacon/stew flavoured fat (which is the basis for the sauce). Child called for browning the sliced vegetables, I covered and simmered it for a few minutes instead for a slightly supple texture. Also, I included sliced radishes for a slight variation of texture along with carrots.

As you’d think the dish would be done as it goes in the oven, wait, there’s more work yet! It’s time to brown-braise onions and brown the mushrooms.

“Make sure the musrooms are not crowded — or they will not brown, but steam.”

Here, I used 4 shallots instead of onions as shallots are sweeter and tends to keep better than onions. Poke a hole through each shallot/onion. Heat up butter in oil and make sure it is hot — it will start to turn brown. Remove from heat. Fry in a tossed manner in (very) hot oil/butter mixture. Instead of water or stock, I used a titch of the Gaberno Chianti 2010 to braise the onion, adding more butter as needed. In the same saucepan, I sauteed the mushrooms, again adding more butter as needed.

Skimming the fat off

For the sauce, I did not add too much water. I used about 1/2 cup of liquid to the red wine and herbs mixture. I ended up not having to fix it with a butter/flour mixture as it was not runny. So, in a way, it is almost better to work from a thick sauce to the consistency you desire. The casserole didn’t really require sifting to thicken the sauce — I could’ve waited for it to cool and skim the fat off easier that way.

If I were to compare the preparation of this to making say, Beef Rendang from scratch, the amount of time required is quite comparable actually — despite both dishes from two different cultures. It is a lot of work, but it also a lot of fun to cook along with a Le Cordon Bleu graduate. When we take reckless shortcuts, we also compromise quality — this is true in my first attempt. Sometimes, I don’t think of food preparation a chore, I think of it as a way to play with textures and flavours — just like how I would handle painting and drawing.

With all that is said, I cannot wait to have my first bite for Sunday’s dinner. (All I tasted was a carrot and half a tsp of sauce) I spent my Saturday evening baking with a niece — ham & pineapple pizza and apple pie. My boyfriend was ecstatic to serve it with spaetzle — he said it was good.

Well, this will be it for a while as I will be busy preparing a national accounting exam in June. Bon appetit!

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