The Recipe of the Month: Boeuf Bourguignon, the quintessential French "peasant" dish—perhaps the ultimate French comfort food. Our recipe is adapted from Julia Child's very first episode of "The French Chef" which debuted in 1961. As Chef Child points out, the recipe embraces a wide range of versatile and useful techniques that are employed in French cooking. As Julia would say, Bon Appetite!
Our book of the month for November is The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. The book covers the period from 1830 to 1900 and recounts the Paris adventures of American luminaries such as: James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel F. B. Morse, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Henry James, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent. A bit closer to present times, chef and cookbook author Julia Child also celebrated French culture and cuisine. Her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking (co-authored by Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) has for the past 50 years teaching amateur cooks and professional chefs the sublime secrets of French cooking.
The recipe of the month, Boeuf Bourguignon is a quintessential French "peasant" dish, perhaps the ultimate French comfort food. The dish was the subject of the very first episode of Julia Child's path breaking television series "The French Chef". There are, of course, many ways to make Boeuf Bourguignon, and Julia Child herself published different versions in her many books. The version she presented on her TV show is also somewhat different than the one she offered in "MAFC". The version below is derived from her TV show, it is a bit stripped down and a bit easier to make than the version found in her first book. As Chef Child points out, the recipe embraces a wide range of versatile and useful techniques that are employed in French cooking but can be used in many other styles of cooking as well. One nifty thing to know is if you substitute chicken for beef in this recipe, shorten the cooking time (chicken cooks in only 1/2 hour!) and add a 1/3 of a cup of cognac, but keep everything else the same (including the red wine) voila! you will have coq au vin! The techniques required for Boeuf Bourguignon are easy to learn (and you will be glad you learned them even if you never cook the dish again), but the dish takes a long time (more than 3 hours) to prepare. Fortunately much of that time is spent just waiting for the dish to complete cooking, requiring a minimum of intervention. It's not fast food.
Boeuf Bourguignon is a beef stew that originated from the Burgundy region of France (the dish's name literally means "Burgundy Beef"). It started as a peasant dish that eventually became a well known haute cuisine dish fit for the fanciest of occasions. Quite naturally the wine used is a Burgundy red wine but other full bodied red wines can be used as well. Be aware that expensive wines become worse and cheap wines become better with cooking, Julia Child's contention that you should use the best possible wine for cooking is no longer considered to be wise. However, it is best to avoid wine with strong tannins (they will turn bitter) or any wine sold as "cooking wine" (which is had added salt to make it undrinkable). An inexpensive Pinot Noir (a variety that originates from Burgundy and is also known as "Red Burgundy"). Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels and Syrahs are less good because of their strong tannins.
light olive oil (not extra virgin which burns too easily) or peanut oil
3 pounds chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon. pepper
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups red Burgundy wine
2 or more cups beef stock or beef bouillon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 small white onions.
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons of butter
Don't be put off by the number of steps in this recipe, they flow naturally and logically and all are very easy to manage even for the beginner cook!
Equipment needed: Covered casserole dish or Dutch oven, large frying pan.
Cut beef into 2-inch cubes and dry the beef in paper towels (it helps with browning)
Sauté the beef in a large frying pan a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil browned on all sides.
Move brown beef to the oven-safe casserole pan.
Pour the wine in the still-hot frying pan and scrape the bottom of all the residual bits on the bottom of the fry pan (this is called deglazing).
Stir the wine from the frying pan and then the beef stock into the casserole dish so that the meat is barely covered
Pre-heat your oven to 350° F
Blend in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs to the casserole dish
Bring casserole dish to a simmer on top of the stove
Cover the casserole and then place it in the lower third of the preheated oven
Regulate the oven heat so liquid simmers very slowly.
Cook for approximately 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Check the oven ever so often to see if the temperature is right. The Bourguignon should be lightly simmering not boiling.
Prepare the Pearl Onions:
Boil a quart of water
Add the onions to the boiling water.
After the water boils again wait 20 more seconds, then remove pan from stove and then remove the onions from the water.
slice off the ends of the pearl onions and peel them.
Return the onions to a sauce pan of boiling water, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 mins. Again, light simmering is what you are aiming for, not boiling.
Remove onions from pot and cool so that they can be handled.
Carefully pierce the bottom end of each onion with a small knife
Prepare the Mushrooms:
Wash and then dry the mushrooms
Remove the stems from any mushrooms that have open caps and then quarter them
For mushrooms that have closed caps, remove and slice stems (one or two cuts) and then quarter the caps
Add 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil to a large frying or saute pan and heat on medium high heat
With a spoon or spatula mix the melted butter with the oil and then heat until the butter no longer bubbles (important, don't omit)
Add the mushrooms to the pan and brown lightly. Do not overcrowd the mushrooms, cook in two or more batches if necessary! Overcrowding or using too low of a heat will cause the musrooms to lose all their juices.
After the meat has reached proper tenderness (3 hours or more), remove casserole from oven and pour the contents into a sieve or strainer set over a saucepan
Return the beef to it
Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over and around the meat
With a ladle, skim any accumulated fat off the sauce in the sauce pan
Mix into a paste 2 tablespoons of softened butter and 3 tablespoons of all purpose flour in a small bowl or cup
Blend in butter/flour mixture to the sauce
Heat sauce just to a boil keeping everything moving with a sauce whip. It will thicken
Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste (a little at a time, re-tasting as you go).
Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables
Cover the casserole and simmer on the stove top for 3 minutes, folding over the ingredients so that everything is covered in sauce
Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley
The original Julia Child "The French Chef" episode demonstrating one way of preparing Boeuf Bourguignon.
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