Friday, December 25, 2009

First Post: Beef Bourguignon, 12/24/09. Whew!!

Yes, inspired by the movie Julie & Julia... this recipe, that is.  This blog is my method for documenting the trails and tribulations in my cooking... in the effort to become better... and in the effort to remember... and in the effort to eliminate a pile of random scribbled-on pieces of paper.  Oh, and to bring myself into the year 2000 (not a typo).


I sought out several variations on this recipe, as I've never cooked it before and the movie made it seem like a complicated task.  It wasn't, for me at least.  I read over Julia Child's classic, looked at Ina Garten's take... and went from there with my own spin.  This is how I begin any recipe that I've not tried... or one that I have tried and either forgot or, well... forgot.  Is a well-established short-term memory normal?

INGREDIENTS:

Beef Chuck: 3lbs or so... cubed and patted dry.  I left all the fat on the meat, which will be the first thing I do differently next time.  My only complaint with the meat was getting too much gristle/blubber... I hate that.
White Onion: 1 lg/2 med, rough chop... I honestly don't remember how much onion I used... probably 1 lg.
Carrot: 4-6 large carrots, freestyle chop... just don't make them too big or too small.  I did a bias cut (my favorite cut) at about 1/4 inch thick.
Mushrooms: 16-24 oz, freestyle chop.  I used the 24 oz. creminis from Costco... the whole package.
Bay Leaf: 3-4... I left mine whole, not crushed.
Thyme: small bunch... make sure it's FRESH!  This is key, in my opinion.
Tomato Paste: 1/2 small can or so.
Roasted Garlic: 1/2 bulb... or more if you like.  I didn't use raw... I'm in a phase where everything calls for roasted garlic.
Bacon: 1/2-1 lb cubed/rough chop... I used 1/2 lb, but you can't go wrong with more bacon.  I couldn't find slab bacon so I used regular sliced... but will make sure to locate slab on my next attempt.
Red Wine: 3/4-1 bottle... I reserved a 'sampling' glass... not a bad idea.  I used a French blend we had on hand, it wasn't the classic Burgundy.  I would seek out the Burgundy next time.
Beef Stock: 2-4 c, depending on if you save a glass of wine to drink from the bottle you'll be emptying into the pot.  HOMEMADE stock is mandatory!!  It's incredibly easy... recipe to follow.
Pearl Onions: 1 or 2 16oz. bags of frozen... or fresh if you're nuts.  I used 2 bags of frozen... maybe someday I'll try the fresh approach to see how it differs.
On-Hand: kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, xvoo.

PROCESS:

1) Cook bacon over med-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan (enameled cast-iron is ideal... go buy one!).  When bacon has browned nicely, transfer to a plate with paper toweling to absorb remaining fats.
2) Season beef cubes w/ salt & pepper (s&p from now on) and brown in the same pan on the same heat setting.  Do this in batches and, as the movie (and Julia Child) says, do not overcrowd the pan.  Brown on at least 2 sides (this was sufficient for me) and transfer to another plate with paper-toweling.
3) Add onion to the same pan (with all the fats and well-browned bottom that will be in the pan) and season with a nice dash of salt... then cover for 2-3 minutes or so.  This will release water from the onions and will help turn the browning in the pan into a rich liquid.
4) Add carrots, mushrooms, and bay leaves.  Season with a dash of salt and stir the mixture several times for the next 4-5 minutes.  Season with fresh ground black pepper.
5) Add back the beef and bacon along with the garlic, tomato paste, pearl onions, and fresh thyme (whole stems can be picked out after cooking).
6) Now for the liquids: add most (or all) of the bottle of red wine and finish with beef stock until all ingredients are nearly covered over.  Season again with s&p, stir to incorporate all ingredients, bring to a simmer, and put the lid on with a slight gap for steam to escape and the stew can reduce without drying out.
7) Transfer pot to a pre-heated oven... bottom rack... at 325 for 2 hours or so.  At 1 hour, take it out, stir, test for flavor of liquid and doneness of meat.  Continue cooking until meat is fork-tender.
8) If it's necessary to thicken the liquid once cooking is completed, create a roux: equal parts flour and butter (start w/ 2 tbsp. of each).  Melt butter, add flour, whisk into paste, add liquid from the pot (one ladle at a time) and continue whisking until the roux is a creamy consistency.  Let cook for 1-2 minutes, then add mixture back to the pot and stir to incorporate.

ACCOMPANIMENTS:

Mashed Butter Potatoes: Yukon Gold potatoes (skin-on), whole milk, unsalted butter, s&p.  Simple.  Perfect with the rich beef gravy!
Green Salad: field greens, cucumber, scallion, creamy homemade Gorgonzola dressing.  An oil & vinegar based dressing would be lovely, also. 
Dessert: Christmas cookies & milk... although something with chocolate and/or fruit would make sense.  Next time! 

FURTHER THOUGHTS:

- Marinating beef a day or two beforehand would help tenderize and flavor it... though a liquid marinade could affect the ability to brown the meat properly.
- Crisp, crumbled bacon added to individual servings would be marvelous!
- Possibly incorporating fresh sage and rosemary... a classic trio with thyme... might be worth a shot.
- Fresh egg pasta in lieu of potatoes would be amazing!

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