Monday, January 18, 2010

Bourguignon does Bourguignon

With a name like "Bourguignon" in your passport, you always get one of two reactions: either a furrowed brow and wrinkled nose followed by a feeble attempt at pronunciation usually resulting in what the French would consider an insulting defamation of the language OR a twinkling of recognition, an amused smile and then a rather triumphant, "Like the BEEF!" Yes, like the beef. Boeuf Bourguignon, the famous French beef stew that my French forefathers presumably invented, my ancestors being the Burgundians of Burgundy or les Bourguignons de Bourgogne.

In his recipe from my trusty Les Halles cookbook, Anthony Bourdain clearly mentions right at the beginning that it is very important to keep the oil HOT when searing the meat. Hot as in on the highest dial, so that it sputters. Everywhere. For some reason, I assumed (thereby making an "ass" out of.... as they say) that sputtering meant that the oil was too hot. 'He can't mean THIS hot', I thought, standing an arms length away so as not to be spit upon by the sputtering Creuset. So I turned it down. MISTAKE. He meant THAT hot. And just as he said, if it's not hot enough the meat won't brown. I turned the heat down just a bit and put chunks of meat in the oil and kept waiting for it to brown. But it didn't. So I waited a little longer. Nothing. Basically, I had cooled the oil down just enough to stop sputtering and just enough to NOT BROWN THE MEAT. I removed the gray overcooked chunks, turned up the heat, let the oil sputter away, and tried again. Instant brownness. One point for FOLLOWING THE DIRECTIONS TO A TEE.

I used two huge onions instead of four regular sized ones. Maybe I should have used more as the recipe called for four but I figured two big onions = 4 medium/small onions. Anyway, I could have thrown in another onion or two. Again, follow the recipe.

However, I did add a little more water and an extra cup (or so) of wine because I thought, 'only a cup?' and decided to augment. I think it worked. The cooking wine I used was a 2008 Gnägy Spätburgunder from the Pfalz (Germany). It was recommended by my local wine shop - the owner said he and his wife had made the dish several times with a different wine each time and determined this one was the best. I went with it.

We cooked this on a Saturday night to eat Sunday night. It took a good three hours and like a baby, you can't just walk away from it - or you can but you have to come back and stir every 10-15 minutes or so. And as Bourdain says, the sauce was much richer on the second day. It is worth it to make it a day in advance.

And finally, upon digging in - it was good. As I said earlier, the meat could have been a little more tender, and it would have been had I followed the directions. The sauce could have been a little richer - either more wine or, as Bourdain suggests, a spoonful or two of demi-glace. Which he may have kicking around in his freezer but it is definitely NOT in mine... though it will be in the near future.

Try it for yourselves and let me know how it turns out...

Anthony Bourdain's Boeuf Bourguignon from the Les Halles Cookbook

Serves 6 (we finished it off between the 4 of us)

2 lb/900 g paleron of beef or chicken steak or same amount of should or neck, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
salt and pepper
1/4 cup/56 ml olive oil
4 onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup/225 ml red Burgundy
6 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 glove garlic
1 bouquet garni
a little chopped flat parsley

Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot
wooden spoon
large spoon or ladle

Stage one

Season the meat with salt and pepper. In the Dutch oven, heat the oil over igh heat until it is almost smoking. Add the meat, in batches- NOT ALL AT ONCE! - and sear on al 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 and you won't get good color. Sear the meat a little at a time, removing it and setting it aside as it finishes. When all the meat is a nice, dark rown 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 occassionaly 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 two

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 (I did not 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 it cooks down and reduces. Bring to a boil, reduce o 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 the 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.

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