Saturday, March 13, 2010

Slow and steady wins the race: Beef Bourguinon

You may have noticed my incredibly lax posting frequency as of late. I apologize, but my schedule has just been insane these past two weeks and show no signs of slowing! But c'est la vie...I suppose it is better to be busy than not in this day and age, but now more than ever I savor the "slow' times, even the briefest moments of it, as they are seriously the only thing that is keeping me from going 'round the bend, as the Brits like to say.

As mentioned in my previous post, the French seem to enjoy drawing out their meals, and traditional French food reflects the leisurely pace of a Parisian meal. A welcome respite for a busy American! My Russian teacher in high school had a funny, but very true, pithy saying. "The most valuable thing Russians can give to one and other is money. In America, the most valuable thing we can give is our time." So true, and a good lesson for all. (Volunteering versus writing a check??) I feel that this sentiment is best embodied in the French dish that has become one of Julia Child's most famous: Beef Bourguinon.

Beef Bourguinon can take close to two hours to cook but is completely worth it. Alexander Lobrano, author of the excellent Hungry for Paris makes the bold claim that as far as a perfectly satisfying French meal, beef bourguinon has it all. It is warm, savory, quintessentially French, and can take on as many individual interpretations as there are cafes along the Seine. It was the one dish I simply had to have while in Paris, as my mother had always made beef bourguinon while we were growing up, although we called it "beef boogie-boogie," since we were weird children and someone was always young enough to not be able to pronounce "bourguinon" correctly.

Beef bourguinon is essentially a beef stew made with beef, mushrooms, red wine, and potatoes. The mushroom, wine and beef juice/stock is slowly reduced over time, and to me is the epitome of those rich sauces that define French cuisine. As with most good things in life, it takes prior planning and a bit of time to get just right, but still remains essentially simple and pure, hence it's rib-sticking goodness.

I finally got my beef bourguinon on a drizzly day after we had braved the crowds and Notre Dame and we had seen about a million other sights, all while fighting off our slight hangover and exhaustion from a night out on the town the night before (hearing Mozart, Verdi and Pachabell at the Saint-Germain cathedral the night before--magic! and the only way to continue the magic was to have ten more drinks apparently). We finally slumped into this little brasserie in the 5th arrondissement, damp and starving, and my lord, if the iteration of the bourginon we were served was not the perfect thing for our situation. Heavy on potatoes with beef so tender you hardly needed to chew it, we were in 7th heaven. Vronsky wolfed down his entire bowl despite having eaten his weight in foi gras just before. I myself would have preferred a bit more vegetables, but perhaps I am a bit biased.

Below is my mom's iteration. It is loosely based of Julia Child's recipe, and has been simplified over the years as you will see if you check out Julia's recipe. Try them both and then improvise to suit your needs!

3 pounds of lean beef cut into cubes
2 large white onions
salt and pepper
garlic powder
soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Italian seasoning blend
Beef broth
Olive Oil
3 cups of red wine (dry preferably)
Carrots, Mushrooms, and Potatoes to your preference
(I also like to add a bit of tomato paste...just a dollop)

1. Start heating large sauce pot and coat bottom with olive oil
2. put kettle on to boil water on separate burner
3. Wash and clean your beef, season with salt and pepper, and garlic powder
4. When pot is hot (olive oil is beading/steaming) put in beef and let it sear, then flip and move about until all sides are done
5. Put approx 1/4 cup of sugar all over the beef
6. Put in 1.5 teaspoons of salt
7. Stir, stir, stir to coat
8. Add 1/8-1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce to taste
9. Add 1/4 cup of soy sauce
10. Let simmer
11. Dice up onions while you are waiting
12. When meat is boiling briskly, add the onions
13. As the onions start to cook, but while they are still opaque (not quite to the clear stage yet) add the tomato paste if you would like and coat
14. Add the beef broth and a bit of water from your teapot until the liquid covers about 1 inch over the food mix
15. Add the wine
16. Turn down the heat and let simmer (NOT boil) for 30minutes to an hour. This is when you meld all the flavors together but the water/water in the broth slowly steams out (reduces) and renders that nice thick yummy stew-like sauce
17. After about 30 minutes, put in your cut (and peeled) potatoes and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, depending on how many potatoes you put in
18. Add your carrots/mushrooms if you'dl ike
19. Keep boiling until potatoes are done
20. Thicken with cornstarch if you like it really thick, simmer/reduce to desired thickness, take off the stove, and you are done!

This freezes/keeps in the fridge quite nicely and makes wonderful leftovers. This is the sort of recipe that allows for improvisation (for example, Julia Child likes to put in bacon fat, but that is just too rich for me. I like to load up on the veggies and will sometimes even put in some celery when the onions go in). Try as many variations as you like until you find the one that works for you! The KEY component to all this is the SIMMERING for about an hour to let all those flavors meld together. The most valuable ingredient for the perfect beef boogie-boogie, is time.

1 comment:

  1. Question for you, Gastro Jess:

    Where did you learn to cook? Your mother? Grandmother? Obviously you are under some very potent influences and I imagine your family must love being creative with food. Maybe you can mention in a future post?


    William C.