It was Sunday. Enough said really. Except that it was colder than usual and there was rain, a lot of rain. And when the café downstairs doesn’t open until midday for brunch, making it impossible for you to hear knives slicing on plates or the chatter interrupted by sips of coffee, it doesn’t really encourage a morning of productivity. It has been through conversations I’ve had with home recently that has made me wonder if a decrease in productivity on at least one day of the week is rather necessary.
It is because of this that we found ourselves in a small square in the fifth, surrounded by someone playing music and bistros filled with people and espresso cups. There was a linking of arms, a sigh of relief, a comment of, ‘this is why we are in Paris,’ followed by a phrase I have used often, “Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon,” which is always followed by the response of friends licking their plates. There was a butcher, 200 grams of pure beef, a chorus of “Bonjour Mademoiselles,” and a slow walk back to the metro.
There is eating together and then there is cooking and eating together.
It is just big enough for two, this Parisian kitchenette. But she chopped in the dinning room anyway, and I browned the meat on the stove and we both stood over the casserole of simmering sauce and a couple of glasses filled with red wine four hours later. And then there were pistachio nuts, Roquefort, more red wine, whole roasted courgettes, and our casserole was out of its thick navy shell and on our plates to enjoy an evening with us of conversation and dancing. There will always be dancing when flatmate of the year and myself are living together.
This particular Sunday was Making French food in France and because we are on a budget here and forgot to buy bacon to make lardons out of, there was definitely the frequent absent minded holler of, “Never apologize!” in the spirit of the one who essentially initiated this evening for us.
Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon (for two)
Adapted from the original recipe
She calls for bacon fat. Essentially that is what you cook the rest of the meal in, the bacon rind melted down covering the base of your skillet. Because we forgot the bacon on our way home, almost creating a terrible situation of a nonfat, non-flavour-filled meal, we used the next best thing, French butter. There isn’t a ‘light’ option to this meal. If you don’t want to use fat well, then don’t make this because you’ll only offend a ridiculous amount of people; flatmate of the year, myself and Julia included.
The rule in my house (when I come to have my own house) is that licking your plates is entirely appropriate. It can only ever be considered as a compliment. I made this for a dinner party of six about a year ago and I had my entire table of guests holding their plates up to their mouths. I was a happy woman that day.
200 grams bacon, cut into lardons of 2cm squares. )If you don’t have bacon, the substitute is the 1 Tbsp of butter added at the end of cooking)
200 grams quality beef
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, cut in thin circles
1 Tbsp thyme
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 tsp flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 cups red wine
2 onions, cut in thin rings
10 mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp butter
Pre heat oven to 180°
Cut the rind off your bacon and sauté the rind with bacon until the bacon is no longer raw and a thin layer of fat is covering the bottom of your pan. With a slotted spoon take the bacon and rind out of the pan and place it in your casserole.
With a cloth or paper towel, dry each piece of beef. This is important because it encourages the meat to brown. In batches if necessary, brown your beef in the bacon fat. Using the same slotted spoon, lift the meat into the casserole. Sprinkle over 1 tsp of flour and ½ a tsp each of salt and pepper.
In the same pan, sauté the diced onion and carrot until just cooked. Pour the vegetables into the casserole dish. Sprinkle another tsp of flour and ½ tsp each of salt and pepper on top of the vegetables. Add your bay leaf (very important for flavour), 1 ½ Tbsp thyme, tomato paste and garlic. Pour over the red wine and top up with water until everything is just covered. Place in the oven for 2 ½ hours.
Regularly check the Bourguignon because every time I have made this I have needed to add more liquid near to the end of the cooking time.
With an hour and a half of cooking to go, start your onions and mushrooms separately.
In a wide pan add 1 Tbsp of butter, a splash of extra virgin olive oil and ½ Tbsp of either fresh or dried thyme. As the majority of you know by now, mushrooms need to be cooked in batches, somewhat like meat, otherwise they won’t brown and in a way, no caramelization occurs. Once the butter is foaming, add the mushrooms and toss to coat with the butter and thyme mixture. Sauté on medium heat until the mushrooms start to release some liquid, this is when you know they are cooked. Repeat until all the mushrooms are cooked and set them aside.
Heat oil in another or the same pan and once the oil is hot, and add the onion rings. Turn the heat down slightly and sauté the onions for around twenty minutes. They should be translucent and very limp. If they start to burn, turn the heat right down. Once ready, set them aside.
With 45 minutes of cooking to go, take the casserole dish out of the oven, check liquid levels (add some more water if it looks as though it is drying out) and add the extra onions and mushrooms. Mix well and return the dish to the oven for the last 45 minutes.
Take the casserole out and check to see if the meat is tender and close to falling apart. This is when you know it is ready. At this stage you can either take the vegetables and meat out of the dish and set them aside to continue with the sauce. Or, to reduce the quantity of dishes, keep the vegetables in the dish. Just make sure they don’t continue to cook on the stove for too much longer.
Add 1 Tbsp of butter to the casserole and simmer on the stove until the sauce has come to your desired consistency. Taste and season accordingly.