Boeuf Bourguignon, beef stew in red wine, has been in my repertoire for ages, but I haven't made it in years. Of course, like so many others across the country, I got in the mood to make it last summer after seeing the movie Julie and Julia. But it was too hot then, and I'm just now getting around to it.
My recipe is adapted from Julia's, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with a few changes (I say "changes" rather than "improvements" because, after all, who am I to improve on perfection). There is nothing difficult about Boeuf Bourguignon, it just has a lot of steps and takes a lot of time (nearly 2 hours to the point where it goes into the oven). Getting the heavy work out of the way two days before you plan to serve it gives you time to recover and enjoy it.
I grew up watching Julia Child on television alongside my mother. We would then head into the kitchen and cook. Great fun, great memories. It’s so unfortunate that my mother died before I met Julia; she would have been so excited. I met Julia on several occasions during her later years. She was so nice. I always intended to invite her over for afternoon tea, but never got around to it. (Lesson: Don't procrastinate when you're dealing with people in that age group!) I would have felt really strange cooking in front of her, but with afternoon tea everything is prepared in advance--so I could avoid burning my eyebrows off!
6 ounces (1/2 12-ounce package) cured salt pork
2 cups water
3 to 3 1/2 pounds lean beef chuck, cut into 18 2-inch cubes (start with 4 pounds to allow for trimming)
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely sliced
1 medium carrot, coarsely sliced
2 cloves garlic, coarsely smashed
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups beef or chicken broth (I was out of beef, so used chicken)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bottle drinkable Burgundy or Pinot Noir
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram (if you don't care for the original thyme)
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 14-ounce bag frozen pearl onions
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound fresh mushrooms, halved or quartered
3 tablespoons brandy
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 Remove rind from salt pork, and cut salt pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices (rather than Julia's 1 1/2x1/4-inch lardons; makes them easier to retrieve from the pot, as I don't care to have the lardons in the finished dish). In 1-quart saucepan, simmer rind and salt pork in 2 cups water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Meanwhile, trim and cut up beef. I used two boneless chuck cross-rib roasts, a little over 2 pounds each.
2 Place 2 layers of cheesecloth (about 18 inches square) over a medium bowl. Place the blanched rind in the cheesecloth; set aside. (A friend told me about the cheesecloth idea from Cook's Illustrated; saves some work farther along in the recipe.)
3 In 12-inch skillet, sauté the diced salt pork over medium heat until lightly browned and crisp, about 15 minutes. With slotted spoon, remove to 5 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Pour off all but 2 or 3 teaspoons of fat, and reserve.
Note: If your 12-inch skillet is a straight-sided skillet, as mine is, you can brown the beef in two batches. If your skillet has flared sides, and therefore a smaller cooking surface, you will need to brown the beef in three batches.
4 Dry the beef cubes a batch at a time with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper, about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper for all the meat. Heat the skillet with 2 or 3 teaspoons of fat and, over high heat, brown the first batch of meat in a single layer until very brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer browned beef to 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven. Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup water; pour into Dutch oven. Add 2 or 3 teaspoons reserved fat to skillet and return to high heat. Repeat until all the meat is browned. If you run out of reserved fat, use olive oil. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
5 In same skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion and carrot about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add to cheesecloth-lined bowl, along with garlic and bay leaf. Tie with kitchen string and place in Dutch oven.
6 In same skillet, over medium heat, heat butter and whisk in flour, cooking about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Gradually whisk in broth. Simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened. Stir in tomato paste. Pour into Dutch oven.
7 Add wine, marjoram (or thyme) and about 1/4 teaspoon salt to Dutch oven. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Cover with foil and lid and place in oven to cook for 2 1/2 hours at 300 degrees. (The whole process takes about 1 3/4 hours up to this point.)
8 Take pot from oven and, with tongs, retrieve the cheesecloth bag and put it in a mesh strainer held over the Dutch oven. Press out all the liquid into the pot and discard the bag. Let beef cool to room temperature in the sauce, up to 2 hours, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. (This allows you to remove the fat in one congealed layer, which requires less time and skill than skimming the liquid fat from the surface of the sauce.)
9 On serving day, skim off the layer of fat and discard. With slotted spoon, remove beef to large bowl and set aside; remove salt pork and discard. Set pot over medium high heat and bring sauce to simmer. Shake together flour and water until mixture is smooth. Stir into sauce. Simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add beef and bring to simmer. Simmer, loosely covered, for 30 minutes.
10 Meanwhile, in 8-inch skillet, cook frozen pearl onions (call me a lazy cook, but I'm not going to blanch and peel a few dozen tiny onions) with 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook a few more minutes until liquid has evaporated. Add to large bowl.
11 In 12-inch skillet, heat 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Sauté mushrooms over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add to large bowl.
12 After beef has been cooking for 30 minutes, add onions, mushrooms and brandy. Cover and simmer until heated through, about 15 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
Boiled potatoes are the traditional accompaniment to this classic dish, but I always serve it with mashed potatoes, buttered peas and homemade bread.
If you haven't made it yet, I hope you'll give it a try and tell me all about it. And DO buy the books. Though you can find Julia Child's recipes and lots of people's adaptations of them online, you need to read the books!