Julia and Julie's Beef Bourguignon

It's the recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon in Mastering the Art of French Cooking that everyone had been raving about. Then, there's the part in the movie Julie and Julia where Julie cooked boeuf bourguignon for an important dinner party. Not just any boeuf bourguignon -Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon. A classic made a classic by the movie. Everyone is cooking boeuf bourguinon in their Le Creuset. 
A year after the Julia and Julie movie, I went out to grab the two volumes of Julia Child's Mastering the art of French Cooking. When most of us read cookbooks in bed like an romantic novel. Turning each page takes us deeper into fantasizing the finished product, choreographing the process in the mind. An imaginary pleasure of accomplishment building up the suave deliciousness of the product. For a moment we believe that we are passionate cooks. It beats our day jobs.

Julia Child's Mastering the art of French Cooking can be quite heavy for bed reading. There's no mouthwatering pictures to lure you to turn the pages. The book really illustrate everything about french cooking and in details: from cuts of meat to cooking methods illustrating the difference from julienne to brunoise. It's more like an encyclopedia or a manual that takes you from the basics to the finished product. The recipes in the books are not layout in the conventional way with all the ingredients up on the top followed by the cooking method. Julia's recipe is broken down into steps. A short list of ingredients required for each particular step. I can't snap a picture of the ingredients list on my phone. I need to bring out my pen and paper to jot down before I go shopping.

However, once you get around it and do sit down to study the recipes, you'll be rewarded. Simply put, beef bourguignon is astoundingly delicious. Less of a stew and more of an event, classic beef bourguignon is beef stewed with aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices which are then strained off, reduced and finished with a butter-flour mixture to create a densely flavored, dark and silky sauce. Yes the sauce is a bit fussy, but truly it is worth it. I wish I do have my Le Creuset casserole.

This recipe is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Cooking Directions

Preheat oven to 220 Celsius
Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long).

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the reserved lardons.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.
Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

Remove casserole and turn oven down to 
160 Celsius. Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.

Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.

Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.

Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.

Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.
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 lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.
Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, 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 stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

- till next post, ss.

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