No Two Beef Bourguignon Are the Same

Like snowflakes, right?

I made Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon last night for my family. It wasn't the first time I had made it, but it was the first time I had made it by myself.

The first time I made it was in Montana over the summer. A few of us were watching Julie & Julia and decided to make one of Julia Child's dishes, and Beef Bourguignon seemed like the best choice. It took us pretty much all day to chop, slice, brown, sautee, and simmer the dish, but it was a lot of fun because there were about 4 of us working together. It was a massive undertaking, but we eventually succeeded and the end result was absolutely fantastic.

This was a double recipe, prepared in the oven. It fed about 10 people and we served it over egg noodles with rolls on the side. It was the first time either of us (Danielle and I led the charge on this one) had attempted to make it, so we missed a few steps. For starters, we forgot to glaze the wine before adding it to the stew, and I think we forgot to add the tomatoes. This, however, did not seem to affect the taste any. We simply added the wine directly into the dutch oven and let it cook in the oven. We also used beef broth instead of beef stock, but there is very little difference between the two that I could taste.

Last night, I attempted a single recipe for my family, by myself (save for the mushrooms, which my father sauteed for me. I've yet to master that art) and took about 6 hours to prepare the entire meal. We served this particular batch over egg noodles, and had french bread and a salad on the side.

Once again, I forgot the tomatoes. BUT I did remember to glaze the wine... however, there were a few snags on this one along the way as well. I do not own a large, oven safe dutch oven, and thus had to cook the batch on the stove. In doing so, it seemed to evaporate all the water and alcohol very quickly and left no liquid for sauce. I was able to fix that by simply adding 2 cups of water to the stew. Because the recipe calls for at least 3 cups of sauce to whisk in the Beurre Manie, I simply removed the solids from the stew, placed the water into a glass measuring cup, and added about a cup of Zinfendel and beef stock (I eyeballed it. Exact measurements are for the weak). I then added the water, brought it to a boil to neutralize the alcohol, whisked in the beurre manie, and re-added the solids to baste a bit before serving. The result was a rather sweet sauce that gave the dish a lot more flavor than its Montana-born predecessor.

FAVORITE THING: My favorite thing about this recipe is actually two different things. The first is that it requires blanching both of bacon and onions. I had never blanched before, but honestly... it is so easy and it makes you feel so accomplished. You're only boiling the flavor out of something, but it's so cool to be able to add "blanching" to the list of things you can do without having to take a cooking class! The other thing is the price. You can feed 6 people with this, easy peasy, and the ingredients only cost about 40$. That's way cheaper than it would cost to get the same dish for 6 people at a fancy restaurant. And you're able to prepare it in your own home!

LEAST FAVORITE THING: Trimming fat is one of my least favorite things to do, and it is absolutely necessary with this recipe. You will not be able to avoid it, unless you find pre-trimmed meat.

HELPFUL TIPS: There are a few things I used the second time around that made things much easier on me.

  1. Use pre-cut veggies. This will quite literally cut your prep time in half. Pre-cut carrots, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms will allow you to get to the actual cooking portion a lot faster. Another idea is to cut the veggies the night before. The recipe calls for quartered mushrooms, however, so those are probably best to do yourself. No worries, though, it doesn't take very long to do it. 
  2. Buy pre-cubed beef. You'll still have to trim the fat off - and I cut the cubes into smaller pieces - but it saves you time if you already have the meat cubed before it's even out of the package. 
  3. Clean as you go. This wasn't an issue in Montana because there were people cleaning dishes as we cooked, but I knew that doing this by myself it would be an issue if I made a big mess. Keeping that in mind, I rinsed and loaded the dishwasher with every bit of downtime I got. 
  4. Use the same pan for everything. One of the most amazing things about this dish is how all the flavors mix together and compliment each other. Because the food is all going into the same place, it's perfectly fine to use the same pan to sautee your veggies, brown your beef, and cook the pearl onions. This will help to minimize your clean-up.

CONCLUSION: Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon recipe requires a lot of work, but is a surprisingly flexible and easy dish to prepare. If you enjoy cooking on your own then it is the perfect project if you've got nothing to do for the day*, and its stew like quality makes it the perfect dish for the Fall/Winter season!

*If you don't enjoy cooking, this recipe would be best done in a group. Still, it is easy enough for any fledgling cook, and is not too pricey to prepare.

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