When I got married, my mother-in-law gave me a nice little gift: "Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1." As someone still attempting to wrap her head around technique, this book filled an important gap.
The first time I browsed through, it was tough to decide where to begin. Frankly, I was also a little intimidated. So wordy! So much information! I mean, this was cooking luminary Julia Child's bible, for goodness sake! Luckily, my husband had no such qualms, and instinctively honed in on a classic: beef burgundy.
The first time he made it was on an icy-cold winter evening. I was out for the day at school, giving him just enough time to make a lovely, warming surprise.
Five hours later, after he'd finished all the assorted chopping, sautéing and detailed prep-work, there was just a large pot left to bubble away in the oven. I arrived home to unimaginably wonderful scents beating their way past the front door. Inside, it only got better: red wine, tender beef, herbs, garlic. It was mouth-watering and impressive.
Since then, he's honed his bourguignon method, reducing actual work-time to about 3 1/2 hours, less if I lend him a hand. These days, the well-worn cookbook sits off in the cabinet as he works his rhythmical riff, adding pinches of herbs, pats of butter and glugs of wine into the ever-simmering pot.
When all is said and done, there's nothing left to do but lean slowly in, inhaling that marvelously rich, heady aroma. Dig in with your loved ones, and drink deep from the well of life!
Final thoughts: Yes, this recipe may be long, but it is undoubtedly also one of the best stews that I've ever tasted, and freezes wonderfully.
Serve it along with a friendly starch to soak up all the gravy. Spaetzle and mashed potatoes are acceptable, but I've grown fond of thickly sliced French-style bread, toasted golden.
Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon
6-ounce chunk of bacon
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups of a full-bodied, young red wine (we used a Three Thieves cabernet
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Crumbled bay leaf
Blanched bacon rind
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock (recipe follows)
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Use a 9- to 10- inch fireproof casserole, 3 inches deep Remove rind, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1 inch thick and 1/2-inch long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1/2- quarts of water. Drain and dry.
Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside.
Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.
Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2-1/2- to
3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
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 bacon to it.
Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
(*) Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.
For Immediate Serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.
For Later Serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.
9- to 10-inch enameled skillet
18-24 peeled white onions about 1-inch in diameter (we usually get the frozen kind!)
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 ½ tablespoons oil
½ cup of brown stock or red wine (we used the brown stock) salt and pepper to taste medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, ½ bay leaf, and ¼ teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth
When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins; you cannot expect to brown uniformly.
Braise as follows:
Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes, until the onions are perfectly tender, but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.
10-inch enameled skillet
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
½ pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, or quartered if large
optional: 1-2 Tablespoons minced shallots or green onions salt and pepper
Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4-5 minutes. During their sauté, the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2-3 minutes, the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have lightly browned, remove from heat.