Monday, May 28, 2012

Peter, Paul and Julie and Julia!

I first read the book Julie and Julia long before the movie appeared. I remember lying on a hotel bed in Seattle giggling over the chapter about euthanizing lobsters. I became interested in the Boeuf Bourguignon at the time but forgot about it until the movie came out. After watching the movie I printed out the recipe and decided that I would make it, but lost the printout when I moved house and the idea slipped into oblivion until a few weeks ago.

Knowing that some of the best cooking experiences are shared I called my culinary pal Paul and asked him to cook along with me.

Remove rind, and cut bacon into lardons. Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry. Preheat oven to 450 degrees

First problem, locating a 6 oz chunk of bacon for making lardons. Paul and I went to Revival Market in town and told them what we were doing and they presented us with a vacuum packed packet of lardons. There was slightly more than the recipe called for, but everything is better with extra bacon right? Second problem. The rind was all cut together in the lardons and would have taken forever for us to trim each piece. Never mind, into the pot it went to simmer....we weren't sure why we were simmering (and Julie Powell thinks this step is superfluous) but into the water it went, and quickly the kitchen smelled yummy.

Saute the bacon in the oil over a 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 saute the beef.

Third problem. We didn't notice that although you simmer the bacon lardons and the rind, when it comes time to saute it you only saute the bacon and not the rind. Ours was still attached. Oh well on we go.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Saute 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.

Behold the beef!

3lbs of either rump pot roast, chunk pot roast, top round or bottom round. Again, not cuts that were easily available. We talked with the helpful butcher at Revival market and he gave us a wonderful slab of prime cow.

I carefully took a ruler to make sure that the cubes were 2-inch cubes as specified by Julia in the recipe. They looked huge! This was far larger than most cubes of meat that you would put in a casserole. Never mind we thought we will get on YouTube and check the video of Julia Child teaching the dish to confirm.

Fourth Problem. There are many videos of people making Julia Child's recipe on YouTube, but none of them were Julia so we were unable to check with the source. After some frantic Internet searching we eventually located a clip of her that was hosted on a Russian Internet site...I'm kind of afraid what viruses my computer may have picked up, but we were determined to cook like Julia and not even the Cyrillic language would deter us!

Browning cubes of beef that large took forever but when mixed together with the bacon the aroma was wonderful and the dish was beginning to take shape.

While I tried to avoid splattering myself with hot bacon fat and oil. Paul masterfully wielded a knife over the vegetables. Only 1 onion and 1 carrot go in the pot. An amount that seemed remarkably small.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sauteing fat. 

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. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bullion 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.

Fifth Problem. Julia's recipe may have been revolutionary at the time for its level of detail, but by today's standards it is frustratingly vague. It was difficult to tell at what point the vegetables were added to the beef and bacon. Should this be before the addition of the flour and the 4 minute bake or afterwards. As the only pot Julia mentions in her instructions is the fireproof casserole we assumed before, but it was at this stage we panicked because the recipe said add the rind, and of course it had been in there all along. Ooops!

Sixth Problem. Well this time more of a curious puzzlement. The casserole is covered in the oven, and yet Julia instructs us to regulate the heat so the liquid simmers very slowly. Not the easiest of tasks. We debated about putting an oven thermometer into the fluid but that would have left the pot slightly uncovered causing more fluid to evaporate, plus we weren't very sure what the correct temperature for simmering a fluid of wine and broth was. We settled for checking it about every 30 minutes.

At this stage in the recipe you would think that you could put up your feet and finish the rest of the bottle of wine you have just opened, but no! Julia Child has us use our time by preparing Champignons Sautes Au Beurre and Oignons Glaces A Brun so that when the casserole has finished you can mix it all together.

Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their saute the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat. 

Toss the shallots or green onions with the mushrooms. Saute over moderate heat for 2 minutes. 

Seventh Problem. Hang on a second Julia. Do I finish sauteing the mushrooms first or do I add the shallots 2 minutes before they are ready? Solution. Get Paul to deal with the mushrooms while I work on the pearl onions...oh and if I remember it correctly I think we omitted the shallot as the recipe said it was optional :)

Julia calls for 18-24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter. Determined to be as authentic as possible we scorned the prospect of frozen peeled pearl onions and purchased fresh. Bad idea. They took forever to peel!

When butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as easily as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

Having delegated the mushrooms to Paul, I figured I had better tackle the onions. The process was actually fairly simple though they were harder than imagined to get browned on all sides.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.  

Oh yes, we also made the bouquet garni ourselves. Our dedication to this recipe is getting ludicrous.

Eighth Problem - Well less of a problem, more like a mistake due to fatigue. Julia's recipe here calls for 1/2 cup of brown stock, or red wine. We had some of both left so we figured we would add both, but instead of adding 1/4 cup of each we inadvertently added 1/2 cup of each, doubling the amount of fluid! When we realized what we had done we just removed the cover from the onions early and prayed that the extra fluid would simmer off.

And now...back to the oven.

Two and a half hours had definitely reduced the amount of fluid in the casserole and the smell was incredible. If I had written the recipe I would have just stirred the onions and the mushrooms into the casserole and served it....Julia gets a little finicky here in my opinion, but, we were determined to do whatever she said.

When the meat 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.

Skim fat off sauce.

Ninth Problem. I never realized how many problems can be caused by 4 little words. You'll notice that after much debate we had already deviated by using a colander instead of a sieve. I didn't have a sieve large enough to tackle the contents of the pot. We thought about lining the colander with muslin, but fatigue was getting to us so we just dumped and strained. That left us with a pan of yummy sauce that I was supposed to skim the fat off. Not the easiest trick. Now would have been a great time to pull out a fancy gravy separator, but I didn't own one. I tried scooping with a spoon. I thought of sucking up fat with a turkey baster but in the end we decided fat equaled flavor and we would just have to deal with it.

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 vegetables of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

That sauce, even with the globules of fat glistening in the light of the camera flash tasted incredible.

All the recipe needed was to be plated with some boiled potatoes.

Tenth Problem. Even though we had picked up some potatoes at the store we realized when we were unpacking that we never purchased any. We had a brief window of time while the onions and mushrooms were cooked and before the stew was due out of the oven to run to the local ghetto H.E.B. to pick some up. Their potatoes were not particularly wonderful, but I didn't care by this time.

We quickly brought them home, boiled them and then drenched them with melted butter.

It tasted incredible and was very rich. Would I make it again? Probably not as their must be easier ways to make what is really just a fancy beef stew. As a matter of curiosity I looked at the Cook's Illustrated version of Boeuf Bourguignon and it was so complex it made Julia's look like the recipe for a ham sandwich.

Cooking your way through the two Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks? Now there would be a challenge!!!


Becca said...

Wow. That is quite a journey! Glad it was delicious at the end!

Anonymous said...

I hate that when trying out new recipes - a lot of work for a little outcome. But it's fun all the same.