Last week marked my second attempt at Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe (and will I ever learn to spell “bourguignon” without having to look it up on Google?). There are two things you should know about preparing a Julia Child recipe. One, it will taste delicious. Two, it will be a pain in the ass. The only other Julia Child recipe I can recall ever making is a cheese souffle, which I assure you easily met these two criteria.
My first boeuf bourguignon recipe attempt was about a month and a half ago. After seeing “Julie & Julia,” my friend and sous chef extraordinaire Gillian and I decided to host a French-inspired dinner party for several girlfriends. I knew Boeuf Bourguignon was the entree I wanted to make; G tackled a Julia chocolate almond cake. We rounded out the spread with Brie, baguette, salad and tons of red wine.
The boeuf started off innocuously enough. The base of the stew is the same one I’ve used for several other dishes as of late – Gordon Ramsay’s shepherd’s pie and Melissa D’Arabian’s braised pork come to mind. When you’ve got a good thing going, apparently chefs want to apply it to as many different kinds of meat as possible. Garlic, onions, carrot, tomato paste, thyme (my herb garden produced an abundance this year, so I’m happy for chances to use it as often as possible), red wine and beef stock. Insert meat, cover, braise for a couple hours and you will eat WELL. It’s a cheap concept, too. Beef stew meat is one of the most affordable items you can buy at the butcher’s counter, and if you use a Charles Shaw Shiraz (which is HIGHLY drinkable, trust me, I speak from experience), you can get away with spending about $3 for the wine.
Anyway, back to the recipe… Julia’s version calls for the addition of bacon, a note I found intriguing. However, she instructs you to boil the bacon for 10 minutes first before browning it for the stew. So there’s one dirty pot right off the bat. I’m not sure what the reasoning is – if anyone owns a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, are there any liner notes of explanation?? I seem to recall something about making the flavor of the bacon less overwhelming, as if that’s a BAD thing? Anyway, not one to argue with the master, I boiled. Then browned. No biggie, I suppose.
A useful tip I learned – dry your meat completely with paper towels before browning it in oil or fat. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, and it really did make a huge difference. The meat browned up quickly and beautifully, leaving behind tons of those yummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan that eventually incorporate into your sauce and make it that much better.
So I browned the meat, then the vegetables. Keep in mind, you’re constantly removing whatever you’ve just cooked to another dish while you prepare the rest. More dirty dishes. But that’s ok. Once everything is browned, you dump it all into your casserole dish. Then you pour your red wine and stock into the browning pan, scraping up every bit of those brown bits as you go. Pour the sauce over the meat and veg, cover it and throw it in the oven for about two hours. When it comes out, the meat is almost obscenely tender and the sauce smells so good, you’ll want to dab a little behind each ear. Mix in some sauteed mushrooms and there ya go. Not exactly a user-friendly dish, but wow, is it good.
Last week, hubby was returning from a business trip and I decided boeuf bourguignon would be a nice way to welcome him home. He was still a little pissed off that I included onions in my first version for the gals, immediately disqualifying him from any leftovers. Not that there were any… This time, however, I took a few short cuts. For starters, there wouldn’t be any onions to chop or worry about. I also decided to make the whole dish in the crock pot. I still had to boil the bacon and brown everything on the stove top, but with the crock pot, I knew I could let it go for awhile in case hubby’s flight was delayed and not worry about anything overcooking. I dare say it was every bit as good as the traditional method.
Julia suggests serving the stew with boiled potatoes, but even after four years of marriage, hubby still doesn’t trust me to boil potatoes (he’s Irish, what can I say?). I opted for buttered egg noodles instead. The overall effect turned out to be a fabulously rich beef and noodles. We froze the scant leftovers and I zapped a portion for myself tonight in the microwave. Nice thing about stews, they reheat perfectly.
So if you’ve got a few hours and a bunch of pots and pans, I recommend this recipe. You can easily find it online, and I have to say, it really is worth the trouble. Make Julia proud.