Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Massacring the Art of French Cooking: Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

Hour Six. The kids are finally--finally--in bed, the dinner eaten, and the leftovers in the fridge. The kitchen is a wreck, but I’m too tired to clean it. No, tired is too gentle a word. I am spent. I am exhausted. Boeuf a la bourguignonne is an unforgiving taskmaster.

Hour Zero. We hadn't attempted a recipe from MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING for months, but Honey Bear was determined to try one this week. We settled on boeuf a la bourguignonne (which you can find on page 315 in the cheerful teal-and-orange edition), and though we knew it would be an ordeal, we figured it would make up for all our months of culinary negligence. Plus, we figured it’d make a good blog post:)

Hour One. Honey Bear came home from work an hour or two early for the express purpose of making this meal. We started by boiling bacon. (Yeah, you read that right: Boiling. Bacon.) That took about ten minutes. Then we browned the bacon (?) and the beef, which we’d had the foresight to cut into cubes the night before. What we hadn’t had the foresight to do is cut them into decent-sized chunks. No, our meat cubes were a little bigger than the sugar variety, and as they all had to be seared on every side (so they wouldn’t release their juices over hours and hours of simmering in a big black pot), we spent a lot of time browning beef.

Hour Two. Still browning beef. I’d wanted to have the stew in the oven by the start of hour two, but alas, it wasn’t to be. After the beef was finally browned, we still had to sauté the vegetables (two out of the three members of French cooking’s Holy Trinity, the carrot, onion, and celery), which took another five or ten minutes. Finally, about halfway through hour two, we added grape juice and beef stock to the pan (the recipe called for “full-bodied, young red wine,” but since we don’t cook with that, we used grape juice instead), then stuck it in the oven to simmer away for two to three hours.

It was about this time that I scurried off to use the bathroom (since I’d had to go for, like, the past forty-five minutes), leaving Honey Bear to start the brown-braising of the small white onions by himself. I got back just in time to see him peeling the last of the onions while they were cooking in half an inch of beef stock--no small feat, I assure you--with the help of our meat tongs and a short blade. (Apparently, Julia hadn't been very clear on the difference between peeling and skinning until halfway through the recipe.)

Hour Three. We actually had a few minutes of peace at the start of this hour--from the boeuf a la bourguignonne, anyway. Our kids had woken up from their naps, and now they wanted our attention. I tried to entertain them while Honey Bear read up on the next stages of the Great Supper, which, at Julia’s suggestion, was also going to include boiled potatoes and buttered peas.

Halfway through this hour, Honey Bear set to work on the potatoes and started prepping the mushrooms. (Wait, mushrooms? There are mushrooms in this stew?)

Hour Four. The stew was almost ready to come out of the oven, so it was time to get those peas going and start sautéing the mushrooms, which we were supposed to add to the stew after it had finished simmering. Now, to be honest with you, Honey Bear and I don’t really like mushrooms, but in the interest of being one-hundred-percent faithful to Julia, we decided to make them, anyway.

Finally, (almost) two full hours later (yeah, we cheated on the time, but after three hours of full-time cooking, we decided we’d earned the right to a few shortcuts), we pulled the stew out of the oven. It looked about the same as it had two hours before. Still, we persevered. We poured the stew into a colander, catching the juice-and-stock mixture in a saucepan so we could reduce those juices to a glaze. Five minutes later (Julia said it would only take “a minute or two”), we were still reducing. The sauce wasn’t much thicker than juice and stock normally were, but by that point, we hardly cared.

As we dished everything up, Honey Bear said he hoped it tasted good. I said, “Nothing tastes as good as this should taste.” After Honey Bear took his first bite, I asked him how it was. He said, “It takes like stew meat.”

Curse you, Julia Child! (But you have to say that how Dr. Doofenshmirtz would.)

All right, all right, so the sauce was actually pretty good. Not three-or-four-hours-of-constantly-chopping-searing-or-stirring good, but pretty good, nevertheless. If you have company coming over and you want to impress them with your French culinary skills (not to mention your French pronunciation), give boeuf a la bourguignonne a try. If not, just take my word for it and save yourself the trouble.


Liesl said...

I'll save myself the trouble. Unfortunately, the real deal wine probably makes all the difference.

Oh well. Sacrifices.

Ben Spendlove said...

Ha ha! I love that line: "Nothing tastes as good as this should taste." I'm gonna steal it. I wonder if when it takes that long to cook a meal, your olfactory receptors get saturated with its smells, so it doesn't taste as good as it would to someone who just walked in.

Oh, and starting with hour six was brilliant.

lotusgirl said...

Now I want to try this. Am I just a glutton for punishment?

Solvang Sherrie said...

Ha! I just learned how to make croissants a la Julia Childs on Sunday. I don't think any of recipes are for the faint of heart!

Krista V. said...

Liesl, something we meant (but forgot) to do is substitute the wine for four or five parts grape juice and one part red wine vinegar. I wonder what difference that would have made.

Interesting theory, Ben. Strangely enough, when we first pulled the stew out of the oven and took off the lid, both my husband and I commented that it smelled like the authentic Mexican food we often cook. Go figure.

You must be, lotusgirl:) But if you do try it, I'd love to hear how it goes.

No, Solvang Sherrie, Julia Child is definitely not for the faint of heart:)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Love love love that you got Dr. Doofenshmirtz in there.

I love beef stew. It's one of my favorite things in the world, but I think I'll just do it the easy way. Thanks for encouraging me not to try gourmet. hee hee.

Now, back to cleaning up my kitchen, which is what I should be doing right now!! :)


Erin Edwards said...

At least it was edible! I once spent hours making a cake out of the old version of the Victoria Magazine. It had many different steps, the last step of which was to cover it with oranges that you had candied by lining a spring form pan and putting the cake in it upside down and weighted. It looked beautiful sitting in the middle of the table for our dinner party.

It tasted terrible.

The cake wasn't sweet and the candied oranges with the rind on were bitter.

Our company was so relieved when I put down my fork and announced that. :)

Connie said...

The vinegar would have helped. As you probably know, the alcohol in the wine works to tenderize the meat.

I have to admit that I love boeuf a la bourguignonne and I've always wanted to try Julia's recipe (especially after seeing it in Julie & Julia). But now I'm a bit hesitant.

Krista V. said...

I thought you might like the Dr. Doofenshmirtz reference, Amy:)

Erin, that's awful! Actually, it reminds me of the very first thing we tried to make out of Julia Child's cookbook. If you click on that "massacring the art of French cooking" link, you can read all about it. Our encounter with the great Reine de Saba is the first post I did in this series (so it'll be at the bottom of the screen).

Actually, Connie, I hope you do try it (now that you realize you'll have to sacrifice a whole afternoon for it). And if you do, definitely let me know how it went!

LD Johnson said...

That's like the time I "played Julia" and made Coq Au Vin. Six hours later I had chicken in wine sauce. I was so sick of cooking it, I didn't even want to eat.

Course, the husband comes in and asks, "What's the red stuff?" "Wine sauce," I say. "Do we have any corndogs?" he asks. My next words are not for the faint of heart.

Thanks for the great post!

Krista V. said...

LD Johnson, your comment made me laugh. Out loud.

Myrna Foster said...

Wow. I have to admit that I didn't try any of the recipes in that cookbook when I checked it out from the library. I looked through it and kept adjusting the recipes in my head to take less time (and butter), and then I decided it just wasn't for me. I loved the soup and cake you made us for dinner though!

Krista V. said...

Myrna, I love that soup, too. The cake's not so bad, either:) (If you can ignore the almost-whole box of butter that goes into it. Honestly, I always wondered why everyone went so ga-ga for French cooking, and now I know - anything tastes good when you add a whole stick of butter to it.)