To-Die-For Boeuf Bourguignon

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There is a reason for all of the fuss: this is TO-DIE-FOR!

Well, I am certainly not Julia, nor Julie, but I do know how to read and follow instructions, and I do know how to cook, so cook I did! First of all, do you know how difficult it is to acquire a slab of smoked-bacon-with-rind in the city of Edmonton? Unfathomable! I was on the floor with that little discovery. Even Superstore doesn’t have a butcher anymore. Where do these mega stores get their meat? I want to know! I only went there after I couldn’t find any with rind at Sunterra Market and it was on my way to K&K Foodliner where I did find it. It was well worth the drive as it is the most wonderful smoked-bacon-with-rind I have used in years. I had already been to Safeway, Sobey’s, and Save-On-Foods. (Save-On-Foods usually has it, I have heard.) Why so many huge chain stores? Simple. There was no smoked-bacon-with-rind at the downtown City Market on Saturday, so I stopped by where ever there was a grocery store open during my week from here to there, hoping to find a slab of bacon with rind on  by Thursday. Dinner was Saturday, and I needed my bacon. My smoked-bacon-with-rind, that is. Is this not beautiful bacon? I was quivering with delight when I opened the package and smelled its sweet smokeyness and saw the quality of it. It is substantial, and meaty and so flavourful. And, the quality of each ingredient is critical. OK. One down.
Next, the little onions. The recipe suggests frozen ones. First of all, I refuse to use frozen if I am going to make Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon! Humph! Second of all, there would not be any such thing to be found in the City of Edmonton as a bag of frozen baby onions, anyway. (And there wasn’t. I did look.) So, where do I find these onions? A home economist friend suggested canned ones in a jar, probably also at K&K. I didn’t say much at the time. I did appreciate her thoughtfulness, but canned onions in Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon? Double humph! Wouldn’t that be blasphemous? Miracles do happen, even to me. I had stopped by one of the many mega stores to find smoked-bacon-with-rind when I found these little glorious pearls in a basket shedding papery skin and revealing their delicate translucent glory. Blood rushed to my head. I need help! I was truly ecstatic about this find! And even better, they were in bulk, and the tiny little hard seed-like onions were accompanied by several (thirty-nine, I took them all) plump, juicy, small round perfect white “Boeuf Bourguignon” onions. I only needed eighteen to twenty-four. Some may not brown well. Lucky me. I now have extras and I need only use the purrrr-fect ones! Cheshire grin. See how beautiful they are? And this was only two minutes into the browning process. I followed the ten minute instructions exactly and every single one was deeply golden and delectably delicious. I know because I tested two. I had extras! I was watching Laura Calder make hers on TV after I made mine, and her onions looked anemic. She barely browned them at all. Do you feel me patting myself on the back with both hands? I have since found these regularly at the Italian Centre Shop.
Back to the bacon. See the rind? Of course it is important! But why boil the bacon first? if Julia says to do it, who am I to question it? I didn’t. I did exactly what she told me to do. But, I did want to know why. Maybe that important tidbit was one of the pieces of valuable information her editors had her edit out of her first transcript. The 700 plus page transcript. I did find out the answer, though. Judith Jones said that Julia boiled the bacon so the smokey flavour would not be imparted to the beef. Judith also added that if you have a lot of fat in your beef, you could leave the bacon out. (Who would ever want to leave bacon out of anything?)
I loved reading My Life in France about Julia Child’s early life. When we were in the Edmonton Airport this summer headed to Belgrade, I bought a copy to read on the plane. I am so glad I did. I love France, and Paris, and the South of France. That frame of reference, my love for that country, and my love for cooking brought the book to life for me. I would have never enjoyed the movie without reading My Life in France, first. But, I so enjoyed the movie. I went by myself one Friday to the 4pm matinee because I wanted to watch it alone. I don’t have any close foodie friends, and didn’t know anyone else who had already read the book. The singular expression on “Julie” when she pulled her finger out of the pot of Boeuf Bourguignon and licked the sauce off of it, coupled with the singular, “Yum!” was all it took for me to vow that I would be making Boeuf Bourguignon very, very soon. I was the woman `sitting across the restaurant from Sally in “Harry met Sally“ when she said,“ I`ll have what she is having.
This is what little boiled lardons of bacon look like. They are arresting, aren’t they? But even more compelling are the little morsels of fried, fatty rapture below.
Now for the “boeuf”! After reading a lot of comments about Julia’s original recipe on the Knopf site, I decided to use short ribs. So many of the comments on the Knopf site complained about their beef being too dry. Again, Judith Jones suggested short ribs. This cut of meat is not suggested in the original recipe, but short ribs it is. Judith should know. And, beef in Canada is different from the beef in France in the 1950`s. Particularly the beef in Canada, today. I bought the ribs, brought them home and deboned them, adding the bones to make the Simple Brown Stock as also suggested by Julia in another book instead of demi-glace. How could it possibly taste as good with brown sauce? Demi-glace is so luscious. But, this brown sauce, when reduced, and I did reduce it, was the best I had ever made. Now, if I could lay my hands on some veal bones (and I have asked every beef farmer I know), I would make my own demi-glace. Please help me find veal bones. I would be eternally grateful and share my glace with you!
When Julia says to pat the meat dry so that it will brown better, you pat dry. I probably wouldn’t have, honestly. But, when “Judith Jones” in the movie was patting her beef dry with paper towel, it motivated me. Moreover, I was sure paper towel was invented much later than the 1950`s and was believing there may be a historical research error in that aspect of the film. Have we been using this disposable paper product for that long? At the same time, I was doubting that something so carefully considered hadn`t been researched. I came home and googled the history of paper towel. I was really saddened to learn it has been available for so many years. I love it, but I am even more careful now than I ever have been with how I use it, and how often I use it.
This was an excellent choice for the cut of meat. There was not one bit of fat left in the meat, yet each piece was tender and moist. I would definitely use it again. And, yes, the pieces are supposed to be this big. They are not supposed to be bite sized. I am just following Juila’s directions, and the larger pieces of beef are sumptuous.
I browned each of the eleven sides of each piece of meat. Grease was splattering everywhere. I just about fell flat on my face twice because my floor was so slippery. Yes, it was worth it. Each carmelized side oozed flavour. I couldn’t wait to get them back in the pan.
I cut the carrot and onions as Julia said…well, she said “roughly chopped“, and I went a little past roughly. I hate wasting chunks of vegetable. If the garlic imparts more flavour when it is slivered, will that not work for the carrot that is sliced? These vegetables were going in the garbage after imparting their all to the stew, so shape didn`t matter. Which brings to mind the first photo in this blog. Do you see the carrots and onions in it? That is because it was taken before it became “Boeuf Bourguignon“. Even at that stage it invites you in.
Julia was very clear about sautéing these vegetables in the bacon fat so that is exactly what I did. I do know that the flavour building in this pan is rich. It doesn’t look very appetizing. Photographs at this phase can lack appeal, but watching the brown bits lift when the vegetables were added into the pan was arousing. Then, the bacon gets added back into the pan. Look at that!
Now the beef, or should I say, “boeuf”? This is definitely “boeuf”, there is no doubt about it, by now, is added. …and the remaining ingredients. I also deviated from the suggested wines and glugged in a bottle of Chateau Neuf de Pape. That is what we were drinking for dinner, so that is what I cooked with. I could not imagine that the flavours in front of me would transform to the depth of complexity that the time in the oven constructs.
The sauce is strained and reduced which intensified the vibrance; the vegetables, discarded. Onions and mushrooms added, and boiled baby potatoes placed around the edge of the braising pan for service. Yes, I even served this with peas, as Julia suggests, and homemade bread. Both were perfect accompaniments. This last bland photograph disappoints. It does not come close to providing a frame of reference for the expression on my face when I stuck my finger into the sauce and uttered a singular, “Yum.” then dropped to the floor enraptured in blissful exhaustion when I tasted it. It was all worth it. Even Vanja loved it, and he detests me cooking anything with wine. I would make it again in a heartbeat if I could find the onions…. and veal bones would be a bonus! You will not find any photograph of the final product. I was having very special guests to dinner and did not want to take the time to find the right light and the right angle to photograph the final meal as it got cold for the very guests I had prepared it for.
So, guess who was coming for dinner? Bob and Beth. I hadn’t seen Bob for far too long. He was an outstanding principal throughtout my school career. He motivated and inspired me daily. Came to dinner many years later, and motivated and inspired both of us. Retirement for him was simply a transition to his new ventures. We broke bread together and feasted on Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon, dunking into the sauce, licking fingers, smacking lips and talking about marvelous and brilliant thoughts late into the night. Well, not too late. I was all blurry eyed on many levels. And I leave you with my singular, and expressive, “YUM!” Now you will have to prepare this recipe yourself to capture the elusive frame of reference for this one singular word.
Bon Appetite!

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About Valerie Lugonja

Educator, Writer, Gardener and Traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home!

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  1. Oh my that is just so delicious! Your posts have really left me drooling here! I love your photos, if only I could scratch and sniff my monitor here, but I guess that means I have to make this one soon :)

  2. I love the step by step, it almost makes me feel like even I could make this. :) Looks soooo good.

  3. I really ejoyed the step by step as well! It was definatly an experience making this! I could not have done it without your inspiration and instructions! It was DELISH ~ according to the guests as well ;)

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