I’m not sure what part of the world you’re living in, but it has been Cold with a capital C for days here in Vermont! The day the calendar changed to January, the temps went down–and down–each day. And ice is everywhere! The driveway is a skating rink and it’s been weeks since I’ve been able to take a walk outside. (Since I started writing this a couple of days ago, the temperature has gone from negative digits to close to 60 degrees with rain! What the heck is going on?!)
Anyways, enough about the weather. At Christmas this year, My Vermont Kitchen received a few food-related gifts: My friend, Jennifer, sent me three tins of herbs from London and I’m so excited to use these in my cooking! (Also, some Jane Austen band aids, which will come in handy for all those times I cut and burn myself!) I received vintage-like martini glasses from another friend, and I found two gifts under the tree from The Eater of the House: an immersion blender, which will be perfect for soups and smoothies; and an enameled cast iron French oven. For years I’ve been coveting one of these, and The Eater thought it was time I was given one. (It helps when you benefit from your gift giving!)
So with lousy weather and the desire to hunker down inside and keep warm, I decided to make something that was traditionally French to try out the new pot and that would heat the house for at least one evening: Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon!
While I find Child’s recipes to be some of the best out there, in instructions and in taste, some of them are really time consuming. Despite my best efforts, from the time I started cooking to the time we sat down to eat, it was 4 1/2 hours! I thought I was going to spend the majority of the time catching up on “Mad Men” episodes, but no, there is a lot of hands-on cooking that goes into this meal. And washing dishes. I lost count after my fourth round of how many I washed. Good thing you have that bottle of Chianti, you’ll want to have a glass or two when you’re hanging out in the kitchen!
But for me, the real question when it comes to spending a lot of time cooking a meal is was all that effort worth it. And I can give you a resounding yes! I love beef anything, and as I was making this I lamented the lack of vegetables, but I didn’t miss them one bit. This is a true beef stew, with fall of the fork beef, and a deep, rich mix of wine and meat flavors. Complex and flavorful, it was well worth the almost five hours I spent in the kitchen. (And lots of leftovers in the freezer for at least two other meals!) Because, honestly, who wants to go out on such a cold evening?
This recipe originally appeared in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, 1961.
Child said this is traditionally served with boiled potatoes, but I like her other suggestion of hot buttered noodles. I served this over buttered egg noodles with a little bit of chopped parsley. Serves 6.
9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish, 3 inches deep
6 ounces bacon (MVK’s Note: I used four slices of bacon.)
1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp. salt (MVK’s Note: Given there was beef broth, I didn’t add any additional salt.)
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. flour
3 cups full-bodied, young red wine, such as a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon (MVK’s Note: 2 cups was all I needed.)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme
Crumbled bay leaf
Blanched bacon rind (MVK’s Note: Since I didn’t have a piece of bacon, only slices, I skipped this ingredient.)
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms, sautéed in butter
1. Remove rind from bacon, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (MVK’s Note: I skipped this, see Step 6.)
3. 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.
4. Dry the stewing 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.
5. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.
6. 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. (MVK’s Note: I skipped this entire step. I added the flour and cooked it on the stove.)
7. 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 the liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
8. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed. **Instructions below.
9. 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.
10. 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.
**For brown-braised onions, add the onions to a skillet that has warmed butter and oil (1 1/2 TBS each, or less). Cook for about 10 minutes until they are evenly browned. Add 1/2 cup of beef stock, dry white wine, red wine, or water; salt and pepper to taste, and a herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp thyme tied in cheesecloth–MVK’s Note: I totally skipped this.) Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes or until the onions are tender and retain their shape.
**For the sautéed mushrooms, add 2 TBS of butter and 1 TBS oil to a skillet, and when the butter foam has subsided, add the mushrooms, and stir and shake the pan until the mushrooms start getting brown. (MVK’s Note: I noticed if you turn the heat down, the mushrooms start releasing water, so keep the heat fairly high to avoid this.)