Experience: Beef Bourguignon

{We all need a little comfort. A little inspiration. A simple pleasure. Especially this time of year. Especially this year. So I decided to give you all a little treat, a little Thursday throwback in the form of one of the most popular posts from my blog’s infancy: A visual journey through Julia Child’s timeless Beef Bourguignon. Enjoy. Share. It’s all about the love and stuff.}

Bacon.  It starts with bacon.  As many good things do.  Bacon sliced into lardons.  Little sticks.

You blanch them; otherwise the bacon flavor takes over the dish.  We don’t want anything to take over.  We want it to be a beautiful symphony.  Yes, you could listen carefully and pick up on the smoky note of bacon; or you could allow it to meld with the other ingredients and simply experience everything all at once.  Your choice.

The meat.  Beef.  A big, red, hunk of meat.  Big enough for the butcher to give you a split-second once over, an appreciative, barely noticeable nod of approval when you say, “Six pounds, please.”

Time for a bacon facial.  The smoky sweet steam rises from the colander as you drain the water from the bacon.  Your husband might come over at some point during the next few hours and smell your skin, your hair.  He’s not sure what’s compelling him to do it, but you know the secret.

Let the bacon cool and dry.  In the meantime, address the meat.  Slice into it.  Cut off thick slabs of it, the pieces falling off to the side like slices off of a loaf of fresh bread.  At this point, if you haven’t already, it will really hit you that you are mutilating the flesh of a fellow mammal.  If evolution had happened differently, there could be a cow hacking into your rump right now.  This is a moment to be respectful.  Whether it wanted to or not, an animal gave its life for your sustenance.  Be gentle with it.  When you dry the beef, caress it.  Love it.  You’ll taste the love later.

Time to get hot.  Oven preheating.  Deep, heavy dish on the stove.  Oil.  Bacon.  Beef.  Your neighbors may come knocking.

Keep the brown bits.  The brown oil.  Keep it all in there after you remove the meat.  That’s the good stuff.  Next come the carrots and onion.  Sweet and spicy.  Orange and white.  About to soak up all that goodness.

See?  The good stuff.

All together now.  Add a bit of flour.  Then a bit of heat.  Then a bit more heat.  Flour envelops beef.  Protects it for the long haul.

Now for the wine.  Bold, earthy, yet young and simple.  Good enough to drink.  Always cook with a wine you love drinking; the food is drinking it, after all.

Now let the oven do the work.  Wine and beef and bacon and carrot and onion and love have time to get to know each other in the warmth and protection of the kitchen’s womb.  Trust the heat; you have other things to do for now.

Pearl onions.  Fresh is best, but more high-maintenance.  Fresh means peeling.  All of them, one at a time.  About a third of the way through, you figure out a little trick; a tiny flick of the wrist while cutting off the end helps to start the peeling for you.  The high maintenance root vegetable has thrown you a bone.

Onions – meet butter.

Now that you’re best friends, I’d like to introduce you to beef stock.  And thyme.  And bay leaf.  You’ve got about thirty minutes.

It’s nice to see that you all get along so well.

Mushrooms.  Weird that a fungus can taste so good.  Bouncy and light, just waiting to take on whatever flavors you want to introduce.  A blank, white slate.  What do you want to write?

How about a novel with butter-splattered pages?  On the thinnest paper, so that on the buttery parts, you can see the writing on both sides of the page.  Delicate, but bursting with ideas.

Beef is done.  The sauce is craving some alone time.  It knows it can be even better, if only given the chance.  Colander once again, nestled in a saucepan.  Trial separation.

Bring in a couple of mediators.

And the inevitable reconciliation finally happens.

You’ve just spent five hours in the kitchen.  Your hair is frizzy.  Your face smells like bacon and caramelized onion.  Your wrist is sore from turning the browning meat.  Your right index finger has a small cut from when the freshly sharpened knife slipped as you were cleaning it.

It was worth it.  Enjoy the taste of the love.

P.S. This is Julia’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Vol. 1.

← Previous post

Next post →

1 Comment

  1. Found this post through Tastespotting. What a journey! Great writing, great photography.

Tell me what you think