I finally watched "Julie & Julia" while on holidays this summer, and I loved the part when she makes Boeuf Bourguignon (although I hated the way she pronounced it - boeuf rhymes with hoof, not roof! Although if you are American, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about!)
I decided to find out what all the fuss was about. I mean, it's just beef stew, isn't it? My sister (the chef) assures me that it is not just beef stew.... if it's made properly.
I searched for Julia's recipe online, and found a version of it on Oprah.com. With only some minor modifications, here's what I came up with:
1 head of garlic
2 tbsp. red wine
8 slices of bacon (preferably thick-cut), cut into 2" pieces
3 lbs. roast beef, cut into 2" pieces
3 carrots, sliced
1 onion, sliced
salt & pepper
2 tbsp. flour (I think I used closer to 3 or 4 tbsp.)
3 c. red wine (I only had 2 1/2 c. so I added 1/2 c. beef broth)
2 c. beef broth
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 bay leaf (I used 3 small ones)
18-24 pearl onions, braised in stock
2 c. white mushrooms, quartered and sautéed in butter
Preheat oven to 450 F. Take the head of garlic and slice off the top so that it exposes all the cloves. Set in tinfoil and pour 2 tbsp. red wine over top. Wrap it up in the tinfoil and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes.
In a large pot, cook bacon pieces until lightly browned. Set bacon aside but keep the grease in the pot. Pat the pieces of beef with a paper towel (this is a key step!) and brown in the bacon grease on all sides. Do this in batches, and set the meat aside with the bacon. Add carrots and onions to the pot and sauté for a few minutes. (I only had about 1 tbsp. of bacon grease left by this point, but it was just enough to coat the veggies.)
Return beef and bacon to the pot and season with a little salt and pepper. Coat the meat with flour and then put the pot (uncovered) in the oven on the middle rack for 4 minutes. Toss the meat some more and return to the oven for another 4 minutes. Set the pot on the stove and reduce the oven to 325 F. (Leave your garlic in there if it's not done yet.)
Stir in wine and add enough broth to just barely cover the meat. Add tomato paste, garlic, and bay leaf. (To add the garlic, remove it from the tinfoil and turn it over so the cut-side is down. Mash it with a spoon until the garlic cloves slide out of their skins, and toss the garlic cloves into the pot.) Bring stew to a simmer, then cover the pot and place in the oven on the bottom rack. Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
While stew is cooking, braise the pearl onions (I followed this method for brown-braised onions) and sauté mushrooms in butter.
When stew is ready, drain the liquid through a strainer overtop of a saucepan. Add onions and mushrooms to the beef and vegetables. Skim fat off the drippings in the saucepan and simmer for until sauce lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon. (There should be about 2 1/2 c. sauce when it's done. The recipe says to simmer for a couple minutes, but I had mine going for at least half an hour before it thickened up nicely, and there was probably at least 3 c. of sauce.) Pour over meat and vegetables and serve with crusty bread.
I made this yesterday and saved it for supper tonight. It was delicious, and everyone enjoyed it. I would definitely make this again, although I'm not convinced that it needs to be quite so time-consuming.... I'm pretty sure if you cooked the bacon, browned the beef, and then tossed everything in the slow cooker you'd be good to go. I liked thickening the sauce afterwards, just to make it richer and heartier, and I loved roasting the whole head of garlic in red wine. But this business of cooking the mushrooms and pearl onions separately, and browning the beef in the oven for 8 minutes before adding the liquid, well, I'm not sure it's necessary. (Julia Child is probably rolling over in her grave right now! Sorry, Julia.)
There is something special about preparing this stew though. Anyone can toss meat and veggies in a slowcooker and turn it on before they go to work. The house will smell great, the stew will taste great, and everyone's happy. But when you spend so much time in the kitchen, taking the extra time to pat your meat dry, braise your pearl onions, and sauté your mushrooms in butter..... I was proud of that stew when I served it up for my family tonight! That was a labour of love, and it paid off. Even though it was a lot more work than regular stew, I enjoyed making it, and I definitely enjoyed eating it. Hopefully that will redeem me in Julia's eyes.