As an aspiring home cook, I wish I could say that I grew up watching Julia Child but the truth is that I didn’t. She was way before my time and it was only recently (in the last five years or so) that I discovered who Julia Child really was. But through her incredibly famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook, her beautiful memoir, “My Life in France,” coupled with a tribute like “Julie and Julia,” I feel as though I actually grew up with this amazing woman. Even after she passed, she became a big part of my culinary life, just like she was to so many others everywhere who adored her and what she brought to the world.
To celebrate Christmas this year, I decided to make Julia’s Beef Bourguignon. This was my first attempt at making anything from the cookbook and also my first time making authentic French cuisine! I was super nervous at first but after spending a little time with Julia’s warm and easy-to-understand instruction, I felt like she was talking to me, in my little kitchen, with her recognizable high-pitched voice and toasting, “bon a appetite!”
Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Ingredients (serves 6)
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
Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry. (Note: I totally skipped this and just sliced the smoked bacon … a promising start, isn’t it? Just the word “lardons” scared me!)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof 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 fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the 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). (Note: This is where I got confused a bit. I wasn’t sure if I was suppose to remove the sauteed onion and carrot from the casserole or not so I just set aside. It turned out that I was suppose to add it to the floured meat … so I added them back into the casserole when I added the wine and broth.)
Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees. 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. (Note: I didn’t have all the herbs in the recipe — bay leaf and thyme — so I used sage and oregano instead from my herb garden. Darn Trader Joe’s for running out!) 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.
(Note: Please allow me to vent a little. Trader Joe’s didn’t carry the frozen pearl onions so instead, I had to get the regular baby onions and had to peel every single one by hand and it was a pain! The easiest way to peel these things is to boil them in hot water for about 30 seconds and the skin will come off quickly. But you still have to score each end to peel, which can take a while. So if you can, get those frozen ones!)
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. (Note: I used olive oil instead of butter.) 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 (Note: Forget the herb bouquet … I was too lazy).
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. (Note: I used a different skillet.) 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. (Note: Okay, here is where I realized that I will never be French. I didn’t put the content in a sieve because ①I didn’t have one, but ②I felt like it was such a waste to get rid of all the deliciousness that’s in the soup! I wanted those now-translucent onions to remain in the soup! Does this make me a cheapo?)
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.
It took me about a total of 4 hours to make the stew but it was worth the time. The process is fairly simple and the only hurdle is time but if you have all day at home and feel like investing time into something so delicious, give Beef Bourgguignon a try. And this is the recipe / tutorial by Cuisine French Website that helped me significantly when I got confused. Check it out!
I served this Christmas dinner with a side of sauteed string beans, braised Brussels sprout, and garlic mashed potatoes! (The photo you see on the very top is the leftover stew poured over whole wheat pasta — my lunch the next day.)
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones!