Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon is a classic of French cuisine. Like many dishes, it started as peasant fare--a dish designed to cope with tough cuts of beef. But eventually it became the stuff of refined dining and $20 entrees. Still, it has never forgotten its working class roots. Below is Anthony Bourdain's recipe, which I have a lot to say about at the bottom of this post...

Boeuf Bourguignon

from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook
(thanks Meg and Seb)

2 lb paleron of beef (aka "chicken steak" cut or shoulder/neck pieces or just "stewing beef"-cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces)
salt and pepper
1/4 Cup olive oil
4 onions (thinly sliced)
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Cup Burgundy
6 carrots (cut into 1 inch pieces)
1 garlic clove
1 bouquet garni (2 sprigs flat parsley, 1 spring fresh tyme, 1 bay leaf, in cheesecloth bag)
a little chopped flat parsley for garnish

Dutch Oven (or large, heavy-bottomed pot)
wooden spoon
large spoon or ladle

Serves 6

Stage 1
Season the meat with salt and pepper. In the Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. Add the meat, in batches--NOT ALL AT ONCE!--and sear on all sides until it is well browned (not gray). You dump too much meat in the pot at the same time and you'll overcrowd it; cool the thing down you won't get good color. Sear the meat a little at at time, removing it and setting it aside as it finishes. When all the meat is a nice, dark brown color and has been set aside, add the onions to the pot. Lower the heat to medium high until the onions are soft and golden brown (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle the flour over them. Continue to cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the red wine. Naturally, you want to scrape up all that really good fond from the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon. Bring the wine to a boil.

Stage 2
Return the meat to the pot and add the carrots, garlic, and bouquet garni. Add just enough water (and two big spoons of demi-glace, if you have it) so that the liquid covers the meat by one third--meaning you want a ratio of 3 parts liquid to 2 parts meat. This is a stew, so you want plenty of liquid, even after iti cooks down and reduces. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender (break-apart-with-a-fork tender).

You should pay attention to this dish, meaning check it every 15 to 20 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the meat is not sticking or, God forbid, scorching. You should also skim off any foam or scum or oil collecting on the surface, using a large spoon or ladle. When done, remove and discard the bouquet garni, add the chopped parsley to the pot, and serve. (source)

Tay's Notes
Anthony doesn't mention this--but be sure to pat-dry the meat pieces with a paper towel before seasoning, otherwise the excess moisture will cause a LOT of splatter. Even with this step, you might want to have a splatter shield on hard to keep those hot bits of oil out of your eyes as you manipulate the meat to get the nice 6-side searing action. Julia Child also thinks pat-drying is important ("it will not brown if it is damp").

Another tip, you probably want a set of tongs about 18 inches--otherwise you are probably going to get a fair amount of hot oil splattered on your hands. Be warned.

He calls for adding water ounce the onions are done and the wine boiled. I would wonder whether beef stock might not be a superior choice. Perhaps his distaste for canned stock from the grocery store led to this omission? Or perhaps he is being a traditionalist on this point--the dish was done with only wine, no stock, in the past. (Wikipedia notes that modern cuts of beef don't have as strong a flavour as they did in the past, thus justifying a mixture of wine-and-stock.) Stock is good enough for Julia...

Classic versions of this recipe call for starting this recipe with frying lardons of bacon in butter! Substituting olive oil is more of a southern-France thing (according to Wikipedia) and saves a lot of time and work--but creates a very different result than the pork-friendly versions. Julia Child split the different: sauté bacon in olive oil...

Another step missing from Bordain's recipe: baking in the oven. Traditional recipes seem to have a step of baking the dish in the oven after the meat and veggies are coated in flour as a way of giving them a coating.

Be careful not to add too much water (or stock). About 4 Cups is enough--don't let Bourdain intimidate you. Just enough to cover the contents is probably fine. The finished sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Another thing Bourdain ommits: mushrooms! Virtually every other version of this recipe I've found includes a step adding sauteed mushrooms!

Also, you'll probably want to add a little salt at the end--to taste.

Here is a link to the Julia Child version.

I would definetly do it again--but probably one of the more complicated versions with the lardons of bacon and all that jazz.



meg said...

Hi Tay,
Not sure if you had the demi-glace on hand but it makes a big difference. Also, for what it's worth, our favorite beouf b recipe is in "At Home with the French Classics". It has the lardons and mushrooms. Did we send you that book too? I can't recall.
You've inspired me to use my kitchen here in Luc tomorrow. I think - will do a Coq au Vin.


Tay Moss said...

No, I went without the demi-glace.

Yes, I have "At Home With the French Classics"--you gave it to us, I believe. Seems closer to Child's recipe than Bourdain's.


Tay Moss said...

I've actually made this a few times since I posted this recipe and find that bacon is a must. Cut strip bacon into pieces about a quarter inch wide, sauté them in olive oil in the Dutch oven and then set aside (add them back toward the final stage). Use the bacon fat to sauté the beef. It's amazing.

There was a time when we actually kept a tea cup with bacon fat on the shelf above the stove. Alas, my current diet does not permit that kind of culinary self-love.