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Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Pork Boys Do Boeuf Bourguignon

Last night we honored our patron saint by cooking up Julia Child's famous boeuf bourguignon and let me tell you, boys - it was to die for.  You never had anything so good in your mouth, believe me when I tell you.

Original 1961 recipe we used can be downloaded here.  Be sure to also download the recipes for braised onions and sauteed mushrooms while you're there.

Now we have been researching and studying this recipe for several weeks, night and day. The Pork Boys are nothing if not serious about good eats, I tell you what. Of course, there are many different versions of this recipe all over the Internet. And come to find out, even Julia herself does it four different ways in her various cookbooks and videos!

Which just goes to show the truth of her very first sentence about this dish in Mastering the Art of French Cooking: "As is the case with most famous recipes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon." The truth is, as we discovered in our researches, it originated as peasant food, the same as good old Cajun gumbo: a way to make a cheap piece of meat tender and delicious, and enough to feed a family.

But even though Julia herself, as years went by, offered quicker and simpler ways to arrive at the finished product, we wanted to do it according to the original recipe - just to be able from hereafter to say we did, for one thing, and also to have a yardstick by which to compare any other versions in future. In Mastering, Julia's first and most famous cookbook, she was translating the professional-chef techniques she had learned at the Cordon Bleu in Paris into carefully thought-out recipes that any "servantless American housewife" could follow, and produce a scrumptious result.

And the Pork Boys can now report that if you just man up and follow Julia's directions to the letter, you will indeed turn out a mouthwatering meal. As shown below.

First of all, le menu. The other Pork Boy, M.P. - who is the real chef de cuisine here, while yours truly is just the photographer, reporter, and chief bottlewasher - well, he has been looking forward to making this famous dish with such excitement that he originally planned a rather elaborate series of courses, starting with oysters Rockefeller and ending with made-from-scratch peach cobbler, both of which he is very good at making. Alas, once we got into the cooking, we found there was no time left over to do the other big dishes - which was just as well, or we wouldn't have had room in our stomachs to enjoy the boeuf bourguignon, which took about five hours to prepare, first and last. But when we did finally sit down to eat, at quarter after 1 in the morning, we had something wonderful, and plenty of it.

Hors d'oeuvre - Potato chips and shrimp dip, something simple that M.P. concocted at home and brought with him as a snack to tide us over while we cooked. I didn't get a picture, but it involves cream of shrimp soup and some chopped green olives. Yummy, creamy stuff.

Appetizer - Lobster rolls, which M.P. also brought with him. The main ingredient, of course, is the meat from some lobster tails he bought and rolled up with veggies in prepared egg wrappers. Another light and lovely snack.

Side dish - steamed Brussels sprouts with homemade Thousand Island dressing. M.P. has made this simple, delicious side dish many times, and the first time I tried it, I was rather dubious about mixing the sprouts with the dressing - but counterintuitive though it may seem, it's a wonderful pairing, you should try it sometime. The sprouts are quickly prepared with a little water in the microwave, and some melted butter.

And the piece de resistance, the famous Boeuf Bourguignon - which you shitkickers ought to understand is simply beef stew in wine with onions and mushrooms; there's really nothing complicated about it. I didn't take a picture of every little step and every ingredient, but here are some of the highlights for you.

After you've fried up half a pound of bacon, and cut up a 3-lb. chuck roast, you brown the beef in the bacon fat.  Then you dump the bacon and beef, along with a chopped carrot and chopped onion and 3 cups of dark red wine and some garlic and herbs into a casserole, like this:

Which at this point admittedly looks like a dog's breakfast, and tastes like it too.  But it gets a whole helluva lot better after simmering in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, trust me.  After we put it in, we took a break and chitchatted most of that time, instead of proceeding directly to work on the onions and mushrooms, which would have cut down the overall cooking time, but what the hell.  We weren't out to break any speed records, just had a good time visiting.

Now the onions - two dozen of the small variety - first need to be blanched a minute in boiling water, to make them easy to peel.  Then as you peel them, Julia says to make a small X-notch in the end of each one.  I wondered why that extra little step was necessary, but we found out.  Next, saute your peeled onions in butter, shaking the pan constantly to get them browned on all sides.

But looky here, guys - your unnotched onions, when they get all hot and lubed, sprout a hard-on.  You ever have that problem?  That's why you have to nip them in the bud first.  Strange but true, fellas.

Then you simmer the browned onions for about 45 minutes in beef bouillon, which gives them a luscious flavor.  Meanwhile, chop up a pound of fresh mushrooms, and saute them in butter too, which takes only a few minutes and gives them the yummiest taste.

Actually, you could just serve the mushrooms and onions with some noodles all by themselves, I think.   They taste so damn good done this way. 

When your beef comes out of the oven, you have to pour it through a sieve, then put the beef aside while you skim the fat off the wine sauce.  Now here is where M.P. used a little trick he learned elsewhere.  Instead of trying to skim the fat off the hot liquid - a Sisyphean task if ever there was one - he brilliantly threw a bunch of ice cubes into the liquid and stirred them around until all the fat was congealed. 

At which point, it was very easy to dip all the fat out, and discard.

Now you have to cook the wine sauce over high heat at a rapid boil while it reduces in volume by about half.  This is the great trick that wonderfully concentrates the flavors of the meat and the wine, and M.P. says he will always do it this way - none of Julia's later shortcuts would add so much flavor, he thinks. 

Finally, you recombine the meat and the sauce, and throw in the braised onions and sauteed mushrooms, and simmer all together for about 10 minutes; only we cheated a bit at this point - the Pork Boys were hungry - and got it all hotted up in the microwave.  God bless Corningwear is all I can say - what other cookware do you know of that can go from stovetop to oven to microwave - and on to refrigerator and dishwasher, with nary a worry?  I don't know why it doesn't seem to be very popular these days, but we both love it.

Dish yourself a nice big helping of noodles on your plate, and add as much stew as you want on top of them.  Then get you a piece of plain French bread with butter, a glass of good red wine, a fork, and dig in. 

You will be so damn glad you did.  I tell you what.  Words really can't describe it, boys:  you just have to try it for yourself sometime.

For our in-flight in-meal movie, M.P. picked up - what else? - the totally delightful Julie & Julia.  Which of course features this very recipe as a recurring motif.  And so with good food, good wine, good cheer, and good company, the Pork Boys happily concluded another adventure in cooking - with renewed admiration for St. Julia, our guide and inspiration.

Bon appetit, indeed!


Beartoast said...

Can I come to your house for supper? I'll bring the beer. Or the red wine.

Bravo. Sounds like great eating, AND some great cooking. I'm in awe.

FDeF said...

Here I am, after a hard day writing grants and budgets and I click on Blue Truck, Red State while WAITING for dinner which is an hour late because I handed over the the responsibility for the evening meal to Leon. (What was he doing all day while I slaved?)

And what do I see but a big pot of Boeuf that's got me absolutely SALIVATING. I can almost TASTE it! What torture! How cruel! Wish I'd been there.

Well, Leon is finally yelling that "Dinner's Ready". Gotta go.

Barbara said...

This is my first time reading your blog. WOW!! I really am impressed with your endeavor -- and yur choice of cookware. It has been a long time since I have cooked anything "Julia" and I must say, I am inspired. I'll be back. Thank you.

Russ Manley said...

Bear and Frank - wish I could have handed you guys a plate, it was some kinda good and that is no lie.

Barbara - welcome to the Blue Truck, stop by and take a ride anytime.

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