Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Making Boeuf Bourguignon à la Julia Child

Any gourmand with a predilection for homemade French cuisine would be a proud owner of a copy of Julia Child’s classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (also affectionately abbreviated as MtAoFC by ardent fans). In this two-volume collection of 524 recipes, Julia and her co-authors Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck emphatically declared:

“This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.”

Reading this exhortation, I decided to brave the erstwhile anxieties of trying to master making anything remotely French. Servantless? Check. Unconcerned about budgets? Check (within reason, of course). No worries about waistline? Check. No kids to worry about? Check. Enjoys producing wonderful food? Double check. Looks like I was all set to plunge into the intimidating world of French cooking. But which of the 500 recipes should I start with? Hmm, guided (or perhaps misguided) by the movie ‘Julie & Julia’ starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, I decided to pick Boeuf Bourguignon as a challenge. If I could make this, the rest of MtAoFC would be a piece of cake.

First stop – the shopping was quite easily done. I got the stewing beef for this recipe from big-box store Costco where there are premium choices at reasonable prices. The other ingredients were easily found at the local grocery store. I don’t own one of the fancy LeCruiset pots but a simpler cast iron pot that could go into the oven would have to do. So far, so good.

Gathering all the necessary ingredients and kitchen utensils and propping up the recipe book to page 315, I started religiously translating Julia’s meticulous instructions into action. Cutting, slicing, and peeling the carrots, white onions, mushrooms. Simmering, draining and sautéing lardons of bacon. Preheating the oven to 450 F. Nothing too challenging, yet.

The next step was to brown the cubes of beef. The recipe sensibly insists that the beef should be dried in paper towels or it will not brown. That being done, I proceeded to brown the 2-inch thick cubes of beef in bacon fat and vegetable oil. That’s when it got nasty. In no time at all, the entire kitchen was filled with billowing smoke from the casserole, spewing and sputtering hot oil and fumes over the stove, floor, walls, and all. In between turning the beef cubes (to brown all sides evenly), I rushed to ventilate the kitchen with fans, opening windows and doors, just so the smoke detector would not go off (yes, that has happened before). Thankfully, following this were less chaotic steps – browning the vegetables, tossing the beef and bacon with flour and seasoning, then the slow stewing in the oven with stock, wine and other ingredients.

For a first-timer, I had not anticipated that making Boeuf Bourguignon involved not just making one recipe but also preparing two smaller auxiliary recipes, namely, sautéed mushrooms and brown-braised white small onions. Mental note to self: next time, plan for 4½ to 5 hours to prepare the dish, not 3 to 4 hours as the recipe stated. In any case, while the beef was simmering in the oven, I managed to catch my breath a little, cleaned up the oiled surfaces as best as I could, and showered to get rid of the grease from all that browning.

The final step of the recipe was to prepare the sauce, boiling down the juices from the casserole and seasoning it with stock, then drenching it over the stew, mushroom and onions. And voilà, the Boeuf Bourguignon is ready to be served! Tasting this classic recipe after the labors of preparing it and dealing with the cleaning up was a wonderful reward. Next time though, this servantless cook shall enlist a helping hand. Bon Appetit!

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