Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Boeuf Bourguignon or I Have the Paris Blues Again

My Paris-fever came back with a vengeance recently, thanks to my boyfriend getting me hooked on "Spiral", an awesome French cop show. Watching people chase criminals around the world's most beautiful city, stopping to eat a croissant every once in a while, had me longingly flipping through my bistro cookbooks while listening to Jacques Brel (cliché, I know, but so awesome).

While there is a plan to take a trip to the City of Light in the works for next year, I wanted a piece of my Paris. NOW. So I decided to make boeuf bourguignon.

I had read Julia Child's version, but despite having the week off from work, I did not want to spend quite that much time preparing dinner. I also wanted a recipe that did not involve frying bacon in butter... Luckily for me, Linda Danniberg's "Paris Bistro Cooking" offered a traditional, yet non-heart-attack-inducing version of the famous recipe. It still requires a bit of work, so you might want to save it for weekends, when you can take your time.

As the name says, this stew of beef braised in red wine comes from the Burgundy region of France. It started out as a peasant dish, but it has become a standard of French cuisine. Let's face it: when a dish is as hearty, filling and tasty, it ought to be a classic. This makes 4 to 6 helpings, and it's ridiculously easy to pull off.

1 1/2 pound stewing beef, cut into large cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons cognac
1 tablespoon butter
2 small onions, cut into wedges
3 or 4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 medium carrots, cut into sticks
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 cups red wine, preferably Burgundy (or Chianti, if you can't find Burgundy)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound button mushrooms (if using slightly bigger mushrooms, like cremini, half or quarter them depending on their size)
1 bouquet garni (1 sprig each of parsley and thyme and 1 bay leaf, tied in a square of cheesecloth)
Sea salt and ground pepper

Brown the meat in the oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole.

Drain off the fat. Add the cognac and ignite carefully. When the flames subside, remove the meat. Add the butter to the casserole and brown the onions, garlic and carrots over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle in the flour, stirring well. Add the wine and water and stir in the tomato paste, mushrooms, bouquet garni and the salt and pepper, scrapping the bottom and sides of the pan to loosen the browned meat juices.

Return the meat to the casserole, bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat; simmer for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Skim off any surface fat and remove the bouquet garni.

Serve with steamed or boiled potatoes and buttered peas.

I must confess that one of the things that I find truly awesome about a recipe like boeuf bourguignon is that it offers me an opportunity to legitimately set something on fire in my kitchen... The flame was not really impressive, but the smell was incredible! Actually, my kitchen smelled awesome for the whole 2 hours of stewing. Sweet torture...

Julia Child called this the best beef dish ever. I don't agree with her all that often, but boeuf bourguignon really is an amazing dish. The meat is sweet and tender from stewing in wine, and the veggies are wonderfully flavored. It should be subtly seasoned, but not too sharp: add a teaspoon of dried thyme and be generous with freshly ground black pepper if you want to heighten the flavors, but be careful not to over do it. A full-bodied red wine goes well with boeuf bourguignon, such as the Burgundy used for cooking, but a Chianti or Merlot will also be a wonderful match.

Some bulk stores sell bouquet garni pre-made, but if you are making them at home, I suggest you buy some fresh parley and thyme, prepare a bunch of bouquet garni and put the ones you are not using in a sealable bag in the freezer. You'll be happy to have them handy the next time you make a stew or hearty pasta sauce.

While my Paris blues will never really be cured, eating a nice helping of this lovely traditional dish while watching "Amélie" did make them easier to deal with. The blues can never really take hold of a person with a full stomach...

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