Last weekend I made Beef Bourguignon.
I don't know why, other than having a 3-pound chuck roast I bought on impulse at Safeway. And because it's "beef bourguignon", oo la la, oui oui, mon cherie amour!
Gitchy, gitchy, ya ya, mama!
Mocha latté grande, something.
I know. "Stop, please".
Beef Bourguignon is one of those old school (for me, that would be the 1950s) French dishes you hear about, or I hear about, that I'm always like, "hum, I wonder what's so special about that?" Well, to skip to the end: not much, except a very, very tasty and rich beef stew that pretty much kicks your mama's beef stew in the butt, or bouté (this is French for ass, non?).
And while we are beginning our post at the end of our story, let me just say: this stew really tastes better after sitting a day. And in fact, it tasted best after sitting in the fridge for two days. So, not only is this something good to freeze and reheat, but I would venture telling you not to serve it to your guests until it's had a chance to rest, ponder the nature of the universe, and age like a fine, ooh! wine?
What's wine, got to do, got to do with it? Uh, how about a whole bottle?
The recipe I used called for a whole bottle of Burgundy. Since I was in Whole Paycheck at the time, that would've cost me $26 bucks. Ouch. Instead, my eyes darted down, way down, until I found a reasonable $8 wine.
The recipe I went by was from the new Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl, and which has over a thousand pages and recipes. Despite all of the hype about how this book has time-tested, and re-tested, recipes, I found a glaring error in their beef bourguignon recipe. But I'll get to that later.
The other thing I found is that, like a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, there aren't a lot of variations on this recipe. Google it and you'll find, almost verbatim, the same ingredients, with only a slight difference in measurements and/or secondary ingredients.
Making this in your 7-quart, brand-spanking-new, Le Crueset, blue dutch oven is optional. However, in the event that your previous, Christmas present, Lodge enamelled cast-iron dutch oven chips after the 3rd or 4th time you use it and you're forced to take it back to Bloodbath and Beyond and exchange it for a Le Crueset, and at the same time get the Le Crueset way, way underneath its cost due to an innocent teenage clerical error, then I consider you lucky and suggest you do so, and while you're at it, take a few food porn pictures to masturbate to later. But only after you've promised to help old folks across the street, tourists with directions, and winos with beer money to alleviate the guilt you feel by your quick lapse of ethics at the aforementioned chainstore.
Lastly, this recipe takes at least 6 hours total, so consider calling in sick to work on Thursday for your dinner party on Saturday.
¼ pound thick sliced bacon cut into 1" pieces
3 pounds of boneless beef chuck, cut into 2" chunks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable (or olive) oil
4 ½ tablespoons butter
½ cup brandy
1 4" celery rib
4 fresh parsley stems without leaves
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
2 onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (750 ml) bottle of red wine (pinot works fine, or burgundy)
1 pound pearl onions
1 pound mushrooms, quartered if large
1. Parboil bacon for 3 minutes then drain. (In the cookbook, nothing is ever said later about what to do next with the bacon. So, I added the bacon in a later step, which I'll get to.)
2. Pat the beef dry. Combine the salt, pepper, and flour in a ziploc bag. In batches, add the beef cubes, close the bag, and shake. When removing the beef cubes, shake off the excess flour (I usually throw a few in a fine mesh strainer and bounce them up and down over a sink.)
3. Once the are coated, heat 1 ½ tablespoons of both oil and butter (so, 3 tablespoons) in a 6 to 8 quart heavy pot over medium to medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.
4. Brown the beef cubes in batches, then transfer to a bowl.
5. Pour off any excess oil and then deglaze with the brandy, being careful not to let any brandy splash you on the lips before it hits the hot pot, cause who knows what can go tragically wrong, you damn booze hound!
This is the part I love.
In fact, that stuff: it is "the love"! Oh baby, I'll scrape you up all nice. I'll treat you to the finest wines and then afterwards we can go up to my room where I will treat you to the finest programming on cable TV.
Pour "the love" over the beef cubes sitting off to the side. Clean out the pot with paper towels or something (don't pour cold water in it for God's sake!).
6. Tie up the herbs and cloves with twine into a bouquet garni. Then heat 1 tablespoon of butter in the cleaned out pot over medium-high heat, then add the carrots, onions and garlic and sautee for 5 minutes or until the onions become pale golden.
7. Add the tomato paste, stir, and cook another minute or so. As you see, I like the tomato paste that comes in the tube. Why don't more things come in tubes?
8. Add the wine, the meat (including the bacon! Duh!), the bouquet garni, bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer for 3 ½ to 4 hours.
9. In the meantime, in a pot of boiling water, blanche the pearl onions and then peel. This is a pain in the ass. When peeled, sautee in a tablespoon of melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. Then add about a cup of water (or more) and bring to a roiling boil. Reduce to a glaze and then remove from heat.
10. Next, sautee the mushrooms in a dry pan until they've released their liquid. Add to the onions.
11. Final step: When the stew is ready and the meat is tender, add the mushrooms and onions and "stew" for another 10 or 15 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and adjust the seasonings.
Eat immediately with steamed brussel sprouts and a puree of parsnips and pumpkin seasoned with fresh rosemary or let cool and serve two days later.
Put the brandy away. Far, far, away.