The Beginning: Boeuf Bourguignon

March 28th, 2011 | Rachel

Today was my first attempt at French cooking.  A few observations immediately come to mind.

First, is there any better smell than sauteing butter?

Second, I need to learn how to read directions.

Third, why are pearl onions so expensive?  I paid $6 for a bag of about 15 of them, and the recipe calls for “18 to 24.”  If I don’t find a cheaper source, I am going to have to change Ms. Child’s recipe to use a more readily available alternative.  My dinner guest this evening suggested I try frozen.  I’ll go that route first, and hopefully with enough butter frozen will taste just as good fresh.

This afternoon I attempted to cook boeuf bourguignon from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  At first glance, this recipe looks pretty simple, but then you get to the part of the ingredient list that directs you to two other recipes for brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms.

On top of that, you also have to cook some sort of starch to serve with your boeuf.  I chose Julia’s buttered potatoes.  In all, this dinner took around two and a half hours of prep time and three and a half hours of cooking.  I started at 2pm and finally sat down to eat around 8:30pm.  Now that I know what is going on, I think I can do the prep work in about an hour and then multi-task while the beef is cooking.  Four hours for a gourmet meal wouldn’t be terrible.

The makings of boeuf bourguignon.

Almost forgot two vitally important ingredients.

Within five minutes of cooking, I had tears streaming down my face.  No, I didn’t burn the bacon or add too much thyme.  It was those cursed pearl onions.  Step one was to peel them.  I didn’t know how to do this, so I did what I would do for a larger onion and cut both ends off.  Then I attempted to cut through only the outer layer of skin so I could pull it off.  That approach was almost a complete failure.  Not only did it fill my kitchen with toxic onion fumes that made me cry, it also made my onions fall apart after I cooked them for the requisite 50 minutes.

Only afterward did I notice that Julia gives some advice on peeling pearl onions (she blanches them) and also very helpfully suggests you prepare them while the beef is simmering in the oven for three hours.  I ended up watching three episodes of My So-Called Life on Netflix because I did everything out of order.

Lots o’ boeuf

Another challenge was hacking my 3+ pounds of beef roast into two-inch cubes.  I believe this is something you can ask your butcher to do for you, but the D’Agostino near me doesn’t appear to have any butchers, just teenagers that talk on the phone while they move stuff around in the meat fridges.

Eventually, the beef, bacon, beef stock, red wine, tomato paste, garlic and thyme were safely in the oven, the onions and mushrooms sauteed, and I put out a last minute invite on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to help me eat the 4-6 servings of fragrant deliciousness that was wafting from the kitchen.  My friend and co-worker Sunday accepted the invite, and we were soon stuffing ourselves with some pretty damn good boeuf bourguignon.

Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon with buttered potatoes

Even though I messed up the onions, and even though I wrongfully assumed I already had carrots when I was at the store and ended up making the recipe without them, I declare Operation Boeuf Bourguignon a success.  I knew going into the project that Julia Child was famous for her precise instructions, but several times I stumbled upon a relevant instruction only after I had amateurishly attempted to do it my own way.  Next time I am going to read the recipes and chapter notes carefully before I even order the groceries.

Can’t wait to eat whatever I end up making next.

 

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