the cookshop: beef bourguignon

April 30, 2010

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So. The first item on my list of things to cook is beef bourguignon. I suppose the idea was to compile the list before beginning to cook the items on it, but there was cheap chuck steak at Woolworths and Whitecliff Merlot was on sale, and there were mushrooms. I wanted mushrooms. I love mushrooms. I hold a reverence for mushrooms the way I do not for almost any other food group in my life. I would rather be stranded with mushrooms than with chocolate. Chocolate is hard and blocky, or hot and sticky. Mushrooms are silk and sweetness, slightly damp and fuzzy, soft beneath the fingers, cool to touch. They give under the knife with a barely-audible squeak. They part with ease and taste like rain, like butter, like soft hollows under trees. Mushrooms are beautiful.

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That said, I took one look at Julia Child’s beef bourguignon and ran away screaming. Or at least, clicked hastily on another link for another recipe, which amounts to about the same thing when online. Which is all well and good, since I found another recipe. Well- sort of.

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This here is a youtube video of a TV show called ‘No Reservations’. A cooking show, featuring chef Anthony Bourdain, it’s fairly entertaining, not least because Bourdain reminds me forcefully of one of my Theatre lecturers. Really. Down to the haircut, the slightly intimidating nature and the very straight-up way of talking. This episode, anyway, is called ‘Techniques’ and shows you how to, among other things, roast a chicken, cook a steak, boil a lobster, and make beef bourguignon. Each food item is demonstrated by a master chef of some sort, and the idea of this episode is that everyone should at least be able to feed themselves, and perhaps a few other people. Basic skills. Chopping an onion. Frying an omelette. Not cutting into a steak straight off the grill. Stuff like that. I caught myself feeling mildly superior because I knew how to beat an egg properly and moreover, had been doing it for years. On reflection, this was saddening, so I went off to stare at Julia Child’s beef bourguignon recipe to put me back into my amateur-cook place.

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Anyway. The beef bourguignon recipe is distributed around the other demonstrations in about five sections, and requires a little hunting to get by itself. It’s all ‘take this and chop and throw about this much in’, though, which suits me because I’m a visual creature, and seeing someone glug that much wine into a pan reassures me more than any 500ml measurement on a blog somewhere. So this is the recipe I’ve garnered from that entertaining watch, with a little assistance from this recipe, augmented by whatever was in my fridge at the time.

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Valerie’s Beef Bourguignon (so THERE, Julia Child).

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Ingredients:

beef chuck steak, or some other stewing beef. a decent amount.

1 onion

garlic

olive oil

1 carrot

a bottle of red wine

1 kumara

1 tomato

a handful of cubed pumpkin

2 large mushrooms

sea salt, black pepper

thyme, rosemary, cayenne pepper, whatever spices you fancy

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Method:

1. Chop beef into rough cubes, fairly large. Remove stupid fat. Keep good fat. You want that marbling stuff to melt and be amazing.

2. Dice onions. Medium to fairly small, but not tiny. This will be in there for the next three hours, after all.

3. Heat up a large, heavy-bottomed pan, one that distributes heat evenly, till very hot. Pour in a decent amount of olive oil.

4. Season beef with salt and pepper, just before cooking.

(Sea salt is lovely. It’s more subtle than iodised table salt- you have to use more of it. I bought some coarse sea salt and pounded it down in my mortar and pestle and rejoiced at the sparkly granules that collected. Was beautiful.)

5. Put beef into the pan, a few chunks at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd the pan or it brings the temperature down.

6. Brown beef. Turn it. Top up oil as necessary. Sear the sides and then remove from pan before the meat is actually cooked.

.7. When the pan is empty and all the beef is semi-cooked, you should have lovely brown marks on the bottom of the pan. You want those. There should also be a slick of oil floating on top, from your recent efforts. Pour that off. Use as you will or throw it out (it makes a lovely flavoured cooking oil).

.8. Put heat on medium and toss in onions. Add some garlic.

(I had canned garlic. We were out of fresh. Whenever possible, use fresh garlic. Seriously. The taste improves dramatically.)

9. Cook onions until translucent, but not yet browned. Try not to disturb the brown streaky stuff.

10. When onions are cooked, turn heat up to high for a moment and then slosh about a bottle of wine into it. Try to find fairly decent wine.

(I used half a bottle of Whitecliff merlot and the rest of the bottle of my parents’ Les Bories cab. sav. merlot. Mmmmm, merlot.)

11. At this point, you want to run your spatula or cooking implement around the bottom of the pan to scrape up all that amazing brown streaky stuff, where all the flavour is. Scrape it up and swirl it into the wine.

12. Chuck your semi-cooked beef back into the pan. Turn the heat back down. Now wait. For about an hour. Come by occasionally and give it a stir from the bottom, make sure nothing’s sticking, nothing’s burning. At some point, chuck a lid over it and leave it to simmer on its own. You don’t want it to boil. A rolling, frothing boil is bad. Gentle to active bubbly simmering is fine.

(After about an hour or so of this, while I was preparing muffins, I heated up a heavy-bottomed pot on the other element and tossed in cayenne pepper, tarragon, thyme and rosemary, black pepper and more salt. Warmed it up for a bit and then transferred the semi-stew into the pot, because the pan was about to overflow. From this point on, all I did was uncover it occasionally and stir it. Check the element was still on low. Cover it back up again. Wander back to baking.)

13. Wash, peel and chop up a carrot, sizeable chunks. Throw it in.

14. At some point later, wash, peel and chop up a kumara. Throw that in.

(Preferably later. I made the mistake of throwing it in at about the same time as the carrot. This meant that a couple of hours after, the kumara chunks were gone and instead the sauce was surprisingly squishy. Which wasn’t actually all that bad- it was a nice thickener, if unintended. Just made for interesting mushiness- but oh, tasty, tasty mushiness.)

15. Chop up a tomato. Throw that in too. And some chunks of pumpkin, if you have them and feel like pumpkin.

16. Leave for an hour or so longer, coming by to stir, or scrape off scum from the surface.

(There wasn’t very much surface that wasn’t either beef or carrot, so I was spared that unenviable joy. I threw in some more salt now and then. Tasted it. Threw in a little more salt. Stirred. Added some hot water with grape juice when it looked like it was running dry. I’d have used stock if I’d made any.)

17. Wash and chop two mushrooms. (I sliced mine fairly thin.) Throw that in fairly late, as mushrooms disintegrate into standard-stew-contents pretty fast.

18. At some point, it should be done. Taste it. The beef should part fairly easily under your fork, or come to pieces in your mouth in a thoroughly delicious manner. The sauce shouldn’t taste like wine in particular, or onion in particular, or anything distinct- just warm, rich, tasty amazingness. It should smell wonderful.

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This is the point where you ladle it out into bowls and serve it with warm bread, or mashed potato, or in my parents’ case, rice. Season it if you think it’s necessary. Eat. Enjoy. Make appreciative sounds. You have just made yourself a beef bourguignon and it wasn’t as terrifying as you thought it would be. So there, Julia Child.

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NB. I will one day attempt the terror that is Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon. Until then, however, I shall enjoy making my own version, which is part Bourdain’s method and part whatever-the-hell-I-decide-to-throw-in. Hurrah for adaptable recipes!
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