Friday, March 18, 2011

Boeuf Bourguignon and Visit to Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian Museum

Two weeks ago I finally visited Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian Museum. Unfortunately, it was overcrowded, I hardly could see anything and took only a few pictures. For sure, that was not the place to contemplate about one of the most famous culinary personalities in American history. So, I missed the moment.

I saw her kitchen through the window... I thought it was rather small... poor Julia, never had kitchen of the appropriate size, with her height it must have been a pain to work there. Also, I noticed her picture from the French period... she was standing next to her stove that was a little above the height of her knees. Kudos to her effort to overcome that setback and become such a great cook.

I like her in the movie “Julie & Julia”, but I like her even more since I read her book “My Life in France”. She was lucky enough to live in that part of Europe in the most exciting time... yes, that was just after the Second World War, that was tough time, but everything was so authentic, no mass tourism, no mass food, etc. I like how she remembered some of her meals, every detail, and that was more than fifty years ago. But, what impressed me the most is her enthusiasm, her dedication and her discipline when it is about food. She was able to make some dishes so many times, varying measures and ingredients, until she got the right flavor, right texture, right shape... almost like a scientist. And when she found the best recipe she put it in her cookbook. She liked to be very precise about measuring... I have to admit sometimes I am too lazy to measure stuff when I cook, but then I think “What would Julia say about it?” and I decide to obey her rules. Funny but true.

If I try to choose her most distinctive and famous recipe, I would always pick Boeuf Bourguignon. Even Julia described this dish in her cookbook as "certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man." Indeed, if you want to make something really peculiar, something that doesn’t remind you of anything you tried ever you should have this dish. I halved her measurements because it was too much for the two of us, baby is not included, and we were eating the dish for tree days. Original recipe asks for braised pearl white onions... for some reason, my closest grocery store didn’t have them, but I put its recipe below so you can make it. Even without those onions the meal tastes perfect.

I took the recipe from Julia Child’s book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, but I changed the measurements, halved them, and adjusted the directions to the modern cooking, no bacon rind...

You need:
  • 9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish, 3 inches deep
  • 3 ounces bacon
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 pound lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 sliced carrot
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • Crumbled bay leaf
  • 18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock
  • 1/2 pound quartered fresh mushrooms, sautéed in butter
  • Parsley sprigs

  1. Preheat oven to 450F degrees.
  2. Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.
  3. Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
  4. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.
  5. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325F degrees.
  6. Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
  7. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions* and mushrooms**. Set them aside until needed.
  8. When the melt is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
  9. Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, 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 of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.
* Brown-braised small white onions
Heat 1 ½ tablespoon of butter and when it starts to bubble add 18-24 peeled small onions. Cook it for 10 minutes. Roll the onions over the pan to get even brown color. When browned, add ½ cup of beef bouillon and herbs (1 thyme spring, 2 parsley springs and a bay leaf tied together in twine). Cover it and simmer slowly for 45-50 minutes. 

**Sautéed mushrooms
Heat two tablespoons of butter in the pan. Add quartered mushrooms and fry them on high heat. Season it. After 5 minutes of cooking, before mushrooms start to release water, remove it from the stove.

You can serve Boeuf Bourguignon with pasta or with boiled potatoes which is honestly the best.

p.s. I am still waiting for my husband to buy me Julia Child’s two volume set “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. I think I was pretty clear that I wanted it as a present.

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