I’ve just about emptied my apartment of perishables in preparation for fumigation. This sucks because I was hoping to do more Cooking Classes before the year is out, but it looks like I might only be able to do one more. Quilt+Bitch requested way back on Once Sauce to Rule Them All for a recipe sans-tomatoes because her husband is allergic to them. Hopefully I can fulfill that request before the year is out. If not, I’ll just fatten you all up next year. 🙂
random access memory
||I remember giving and receiving these giant blue tins of Danish butter cookies as a kid. Every time we went to someone’s house, they’d break out these cookies. I got sick of them. They were all the same type of cookie, just in different shapes. After a while, I would only eat the pretzel shaped ones because they had sugar crystals on top (and comparatively less of the boring cookie-mass).|
|At these long gatherings where grown-ups talked about grown-up things and kids were supposed to sit around and behave, I passed time by picking off the sugar grains one by one before finally eating the cookie remnants.|
|In retrospect, that was like strip mining sugar from the cookie.|
Today, we’re going to tackle my version of boeuf bourguignon, also known as Beef Burgundy.
Very Important Information About This Stew
My version of this stew is highly impractical. It is time-consuming, labor-intensive, ingredient-hungry (read: $$$ if you go all out), and you’ll have a grip of utensils and dishes to wash (I suggest conning someone else into doing the dishes).
I made this stew many times before I found the proportions and techniques I felt were best. Indeed, I made this only a few weeks ago for my friends and thanks to their willingness to be guinea pigs, I was able to hone it further. (I’m hesistant to make people my guinea pigs although I usually have no shortage of volunteers, even when I warn them the recipe is still in the early stages of research and development.)
This recipe illustrated here today is the ABSOLUTE bestest version of this recipe. It focuses on presentation as well as taste. If you are not at all concerned with presentation and you don’t need it to be perfect on taste (say, 8 on a scale of 10), then there is a less complicated version that will be elaborated upon in the post.
I don’t wimp out when making good food, because…
…and I believe this is how a gourmet Spartan (ha, how oxymoronic) would cook.
Those who have had the simpler version are my friends and will help me move. Those who have had the full version are also my friends — but they will help me move the body.
Last of all, my recipes are never health-conscious, but I think you’ve all figured that out by now.
There’s lots of room for tweakage in this recipe and Points of Tweakage are mentioned in the post.
pots and pans
- 8 quart stockpot
- small frying pan or skillet
bowls & plates
- shallow bowl or pie plate
- various bowls to hold stuff
- long-handled tongs
- wooden or nylon cooking spoon
- optional good extra-virgin olive oil (should you decide to be a teensy bit health-conscious)
- 1/2 pound bacon (the leaner center-cut bacon is preferable)
- 3 pounds beef chuck (I used chuck pot roast here because it was on sale)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 pound brown or yellow onions
- 1 pound carrots
- 1 pound celery
- 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
- 1/2 pound pearl onions (frozen is fine)
- 1/2 cup sherry
- 1 bottle (750 ml) good red wine (cabernet sauvignon is my preference)
- 3-4 cups beef stock or low-sodium beef broth
- 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
- optional filtered or bottled water (no tap water, bro)
- white flour
seasonings, herbs & spices
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 flat-leaf (Italian) parsley stems
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 whole cloves
- one 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 strip (about 1″ x 3″) orange peel
- cooked rice, mashed potatoes, buttered egg noodles, or buttered toasted baguette slices
- crown and/or scepter
I like using cuts from the chuck section for stewing. The meat is lean with marbling throughout as well as some bits of connective tissue and collagen that taste deeee-licious when cooked down until tender. I also prefer to buy the large cut of meat and cut it into pieces myself. I rarely buy the little trays of pre-cut “beef for stewing”.
Cut the meat into 1-1/2 inch cubes, and not any smaller, if you can help it.
If you have to choose between cutting a 2-inch piece into two 1-inch pieces or a 1/2-inch and a 1-1/2 inch piece, do neither and leave it as a 2-inch piece. Since this dish is slow-cooked over low heat, smaller pieces will end up dry and overcooked. You can alway cook meat to further doneness, but you cannot reverse that process. Better undercooked than overcooked.
Sprinkle the 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper on the cubes. Mix well.
I use my hands to mix the salt and pepper into the meat. Utensils just don’t do as thorough of a job. If you use your hands, don’t forget to wash them with hot water and soap before and after.
Bacon time! Cut across the slices to get short strips about a 1/2 inch wide. If you are using bacon that is not pre-sliced, cut the bacon into 1/4-inch x 1/4-inch x 1-inch “matchsticks”.
In case you were wondering, pictures of bacon almost always come full-size on this blog.
Place your stockpot on the stove and turn up the burner to medium. Put the bacon in the cold pot.
Cook the bacon until it is just crisp around the edges. Stir frequently and make sure the bacon does not burn. When done, remove the bacon pieces from the pot and set aside, reserving the bacon fat in the pot.
While the bacon is cooking, you can take the time to cut up the vegetables and garlic. I find that one large clove of garlic per pound of meat is a good ratio.
- Point of Tweakage: If you want more garlic flavor, feel free to do two or three cloves per pound.
After peeling, the vegetables will be about 2/3 to 3/4 pounds each.
I learned the benefits of peeling celery from my mom. Peeling the outside surface of the celery takes away the tough outer skin and the “strings” that often get stuck in your teeth. Cut off the ends of the celery stalk and then use a vegetable peeler to strip off a long “ribbon” of the outside surface. Take care not to “skin” off too much. You only want to take off the top layer and it’s not very thick at all.
Peeled celery imparts a better flavor and makes for a more enjoyable chowing experience. I highly recommend it.
Mince the garlic. Cut the onion, carrot, and celery into large pieces as illustrated below.
You will eventually remove these vegetables — we are only using them for flavor. Because we’re all about presentation and taste and sh#t, yo. Set aside the cut up vegetables and garlic in a bowl.
Cook and eat the extra bacon slices you didn’t use in the skillet.
This would be considered an “optional” step, depending on who you are. I like bacon at all times of day so it is not optional to me.
Crack your knuckles, cooking is about to get real.
Here is the bacon fat you still have in the pot and as Steve Irwin would say, “Isn’t she gorgeous!”
You will be using this bacon fat to brown the cubes of beef. Before we do that, we need to flour the beef.
Here is a picture of how I set up my workstation:
You’ll need a shallow bowl or pie pan (I used a glass pie pan). I line my pan with a paper towel which both helps in flouring the beef and also makes clean up a whole lot easier. You’ll need tongs, preferably long-handled ones (mine were short-handled, but that’s okay — I inherited my mom’s fireproof hands), to help you flour and cook the beef. Finally, you’ll need another bowl to hold the browned beef cubes.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and get ready to do some assembly line work.
You are not to brown all the beef at once. You can only brown as many cubes that can fit in a single layer. You’ll also need space between the cubes to allow you to turn them over easily. I usually brown 8 to 10 pieces at a time. You can brown more or less, depending on the size of your pot.
Place the cubes of beef in the plate with the flour. Using the tongs, turn the cubes over to make sure they are coated on all sides. You can pull on the corners of the paper towel to help you toss the cubes about a bit to ensure good coverage.
Check that the bacon fat is hot. It should start bubbling up around your spoon when you hold it against the bottom of the pot.
Take a cube of beef, tap it against the side of the plate to knock off the excess flour, then place into the hot fat. Working quickly, repeat with the other pieces until you have them all in the pot.
I brown two opposite sides of the cubes (the largest sides, if they’re irregular) for about a minute each. While the cubes are browning, I’ll start flouring the next batch in preparation. After the two minutes of browning, I use the tongs and turn them over to the unbrowned sides. Then, I’ll sear each unbrowned side of a cube by holding it against the bottom of the pan for about 5 to 10 seconds. Once all sides are browned, the cube goes into the holding bowl. I repeat until all the cubes are browned. Once the pot is empty, I start on the next batch.
I repeat these steps until all the meat is browned.
It sounds like a long process but I assure you it goes pretty quick.
Eventually, after a few batches, the bacon fat in the pan will be all used up. You never want the bottom of the pot to be dry as it will burn. When you see the bacon fat is running low, you can replenish the oil level by adding butter (what I did) or olive oil (healthier choice).
You can see the flour and fat leaves a residue on the bottom of the pot. That is fine. As long as it is a nice brown color and doesn’t burn (it won’t burn as long as you keep the fat/oil level constant and watch the heat level), you want it and more of it.
This process of flouring the meat and then searing in fat/oil is the slacker’s way of making a roux. Roux is a combination of fat or oil and flour used to thicken a sauce. It also lends a delicious taste to whatever you’re cooking. Later on, the roux will help thicken the stew.
Look! All done. 🙂
Cover the bowl of browned beef and get the onions you cut up and set aside earlier.
Add some more butter or oil to the pot. When it’s all heated up again, add the onions and garlic. Stir constantly and add more butter or oil as needed in order to keep things from burning. You don’t need to caramelize the onions too much — just a nice golden color is fine. The bottom of the pot will continue crusting over with fond and roux. I know my mom is secretly freaking out at this point because she’s thinking what a bitch it’s going to be to clean the pot of all that residue…
This is where Tio Pepe comes to the rescue! You know, the sherry. Add the 1/2 cup of sherry and watch it bubble up!
Continue stirring the onions and soon, the fond and roux at the bottom will loosen and clear out. I like to use some of the bigger onion sections to “scrub” the stubborn spots.
I know what I’m doing.
(Famous last words, I know.)
While I let the onions simmer a bit and clean off the pot for me, I assemble the bouquet garni. If you read my previous post on soupe a l’oignon (French Onion Soup) you’re already familiar with the bouquet garni. The most basic bouquet garni is like the one I used for the French Onion Soup: parsley stems, thyme sprigs, and a bay leaf. Additional herbs may be added depending on what it is your cooking.
We’re cooking the bestest beef stew ever, so we will be adding a few more items. The additions to the basic bouquet garni will be: two whole cloves, a strip of orange peel, and a short stick of cinnamon. Take a celery stalk from what you have set aside and incarcerate the cinnamon stick in the hollow by sticking the two cloves on either end.
Tie everything together with some cooking twine.
The orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon add a subtle warmth and depth to the flavors of this stew. You may not notice it when it is there, but it’s definitely noticed when it’s gone.
- Point of Tweakage: If you are adverse to any of those flavors (orange peel, cloves, cinnamon), feel free to omit them — they’re not necessary, just very, very nice.
Your pot should now be fairly clean on the bottom. It’s time to add more liquids. Bring out your wine, beef broth or stock, and tomato paste.
Important: the quality of the wine determines the quality of the stew. Cheap wine makes for a cheap stew. Wine, however, comes at a multitude of price points, none of which ensure quality. My advice is to use a wine that you already do like (no box wines, jug wines, or wine coolers).
If you don’t have a preference, I have listed some that I like, with a price range of $10-$20. I got these wines at Vons market, part of a group that also owns Safeway (CA, NV), Randalls (TX), Genuardi’s (PA), and Carr’s (AK).
- Point of Tweakage: I prefer using cabernets for stew because they are bold enough to stand up to all the flavors, but if you’re not a fan of the “winey” flavor, feel free to use a wine with less tannins like pinot noir.
Pour the wine over the onions. One 750ml bottle has about 3 cups of wine. I use the whole bottle.
- Point of Tweakage: If you’re not sure you’d like to use a whole bottle of wine (Why the f#ck not?! Oh, hey, I get it — you want to drink the extra! *wink wink*), feel free to reduce the amount. I would recommend using at least 1 cup of wine, but not more than 3 cups. Unless you want to. It’s your stew.
Arrange the celery and carrots on top of the onion. If you like, you can put the bouquet garni in the little center hollow. I didn’t do it because I forgot. Put the meat on top of the vegetables.
Mix the tomato paste with some of the stock and pour it in. Pour in the rest of the stock. It’s a great time to throw in the bouquet garni if you’ve forgotten.
If the meat is not entirely covered by liquid, add filtered water (or additional stock if you have some on hand) just until it covers the meat by about an inch. This is very important. You need the meat to be completely submerged while cooking. If any of it is above the liquid, it will jerkify (not a real word) and dry out.
Raise the heat to high and right when it all reaches a merry boil, reduce to a super-low simmer. I reduce the heat to the point where bubbles barely break the surface.
Cover the pot.
Prepare to wait.
|Eat the orange (and drink the extra wine, if any).|
|You will simmer the stew for at least 2 hours. Preferably, you will simmer the stew… FOREVER!|
|That would defeat the purpose of cooking something so delicious.|
|You won’t need to stir the stew at all. The way the vegetables are arranged prevents the meat from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pot. The low cooking temperature itself should also prevent burning of the goods.|
|I simmer the stew for a long time. Let me rummage around the bargain DVD bin and see what I come up with.|
Dim the lights, it’s time for…
By sheer coincidence, all the movies were about future dystopian societies.
|12 Monkeys (1995)|
|I was expecting this movie to be something comedic in spite of the grim poster. Twelve monkeys could qualify as a barrelful… I was pleasantly surprised by this film. The main cast were excellent and it was fun to see Brad Pitt as a scruffy, wall-eyed crazypants. I haven’t seen Madeline Stowe in a lot of movies, but I found her very believable as a scientist (as opposed to, say, Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in one of those blargh Pierce Brosnan Bond movies). I liked how the film handled the concept of time travel. Also, the ending, which you keep seeing throughout the movie, still had a nice twist.|
|Bruce Willis eats a spider.|
|I guessed this movie might resemble The Matrix judging from the outfits on the poster, and I was partly right. Not only is Christian Bale’s high-collar coat very reminiscent of Keanu Reeves’ coat in Matrix: Reloaded, the fight scenes in the movie were very reminiscent of Matrix fight scenes. Christian Bale’s face is even very reminiscent of Keanu Reeves’ face after a while. The plot is predictable and clunky. I mean, they say things like, “He is FEELING, sir!” How does one not go all ROFLMAO after hearing that ?! Fight scenes were silly (why aren’t these fully-armored SWAT peeps with machine guns FIRING at the dude?! USE THE BULLETS MORONS.) and the concept of Tai Chi combined with mathematics and guns into a self-defense confection gratingly called “Gun Kata” was hilarious. Don’t get me wrong — if Gun Kata was real, it’d be great. But since it isn’t, it just sounds ridiculous. The movie takes itself so seriously it becomes funny. Also, “Tetragrammaton” sounds like an expensive boarding school.|
|“I had no feelings about it. I was merely trying to optimize.”|
|V for Vendetta (2005)|
|I heard a lot about this movie when it came out and since everyone told me to go watch it, I did the cat-on-a-leash thing and laid down in passive-aggressive refusal. I do that a lot with movies. Everyone talking about a movie spoils the movie for me and I won’t watch it for years. It was time, though, to see what those Guy Fawkes masks I see all the time and Natalie Portman with a buzz cut was about. And… the movie was all right. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books so it was interesting to see Edmond Dantes referenced in the movie. I have yet to establish my feelings (“She is FEELING, sir!” Bwahahaha! Oh, I kill me.) about this movie. Hugo Weaving is great, though. I’ll probably watch it again.|
|I found Natalie Portman kind of annoying in this movie, but I’m not sure why.|
Turn the lights back on…
|…it’s time to check out the stew.|
|I stitched some keychains and did some laundry as well during the previously discussed 6 hours and 6 minutes of dystopian-future movies.|
|If I was ever in the mood for decadent, capitalist contraband food, it’d be now.|
The photo up there is how the stew looked after all those hours of simmering. At this point, I skim as much fat off the top as I can. I do this using a method that some probably don’t approve of, but is very effective and efficient. I lay paper towel sheets one at a time lightly on top of the stew until I have gotten most of the oil soaked away. The dark scummy bits usually go along with the oil. Discard the bouquet garni while you’re doing the dirty work.
Take this moment to fish out a piece of meat and cut into it to make sure it’s cooked through. The middle should still be pink, like a steak cooked medium to medium-well. If you cut the beef into the prescribed 1-1/2 inch cubes, they should all look like that. The smaller pieces will be cooked to a further doneness, and that’s fine. Even if you feel the meat is not done enough, that’s fine, too.
Crack your knuckles (again), cooking is about to get real-er.
If you are using frozen pearl onions, take out what you need and let them thaw. I usually put them in a bowl with some tepid water from the tap. While they are thawing, rinse and trim off the stems of the mushrooms. Slice the caps into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Sliced mushrooms were on sale so that’s what I bought. They went well with my inherent laziness.
Onions not thawed yet? That’s all right. You still have more hard labor.
|“You didn’t actually think it would be that easy, did you?”|
|“You know, for a second there… yeah, I kinda did.”|
Your eyes do not deceive you. I separated the vegetables, meat, and broth. This is because I’m making Olympic-level stew here and points are awarded for artistry as well as technique.
- Point of Tweakage: If you’re now feeling weak in the knees and rocking back and forth, you can “Choose Your Own Adventure” to a kinder, gentler (but LESS PRETTY and LESS TASTY) Simple Stew. For Simple Stew, don’t separate anything. If you know in advance you are making Simple Stew, you can cut the vegetables into smaller pieces at the beginning. If you didn’t plan on making Simple Stew and have only now realized you were being too ambitious, you can use kitchen shears to cut the vegetables into smaller chunks. Throw out the bouquet garni. Add the reserved bacon, pearl onions (drained), and mushrooms. Simmer at low heat for an additional 25 minutes. Serve. And don’t tell anyone the Olympic version of this stew ever existed.
After separating the three groups, toss out the veggies. It’s a sin, but it’s got to be done. Reserve the meat in its bowl and set aside. Turn up the heat on the broth to medium and let it bubble away. You are an alchemist and you will be refining Awesome into Pure Awesome.
Remember those extra carrots and celery? Bring ’em back! Dice the celery (which you have peeled, because you have found that technique to be fabulous) and carrots.
I suggest dicing anywhere between 1/4- and 1/2-inch. Actually, the best size is 3/8-inch… but who’s measuring? (That’s what SHE said!)
I am just a smidge neurotic. I sliced some carrot rounds 1/4-inch thick and went all ninja-gun-kata on them with my aspic cutters.
Aspic cutters are from a bygone era. Aspic is “a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin made from a meat stock or consommé.” Very ornate salads were made out of it. Read more about aspic at Wikipedia. A Google search turns up countless photographs, most of them interesting, some of them not-appetizing…
Set your diced vegetables aside for the moment.
Drain the onions. If they are not thawed by now, stare at them and the heat of your burning frustration and exhaustion will finish the job. Melt a tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat in your skillet (which you have washed since the last time you used it).
Saute the pearl onions, stirring frequently, until they are juuuust beginning to caramelize and are a light golden color. Throw them into the pot.
Now, it’s the mushrooms’ turn. Melt another tablespoon of butter in the skillet (you don’t have to wash it out — all butter, all good).
Saute the mushrooms until they have reduced in size and almost all liquid has evaporated. Mushrooms absorb butter very quickly (like we do!) so be prepared to add more
cowbell butter if the pan is looking dry. Throw the mushrooms and any remaining liquid into the pot.
At this point, I like to add a little flour to thicken the stew. I don’t want the stew to have a gravy consistency, I only want to thicken the broth enough so it will have — in the parlance of the salad dressing industry — “superior cling” and stick to the stew items.
I put a heaping tablespoon of flour into a bowl (my cute little whale bowl here is actually too small — everything in my apartment is pygmy-sized, just like its inhabitant). Add some hot broth from the pot and stir well. You don’t want a paste, you want something that has the same consistency of melting ice cream. Add enough broth so that when you stir, it is a thick liquid. Pour this flour-broth mixture slowly into the simmering broth in the pot and stir to incorporate.
Never add the flour directly to the pot of broth. That’s how you make undercooked dumplings/lumplings of raw flour and ruin a Good Thing. Also, your License of Alchemy for Creating Pure Awesome will be revoked.
Revive thineself with the thought of…
That’s the bacon we rendered for fat and then set aside, oh, I don’t know — a year ago? Something like that. Throw it in.
|Add the diced vegetables.|
|And the beef, too.|
Stir it all.
When the broth begins to bubble, reduce heat to low and simmer away. You’ll only need to simmer until the onions are tender, which is at most 25-30 minutes. If your beef was undercooked before, it will get an extra bit of cooking here.
Look at that.
She is, indeed, quite gorgeous.
Taste and adjust for salt and pepper if needed. I find I do not need to add more salt as the bacon and broth usually provide enough.
You can serve this Stew of the Gods with a variety of carbohydrates. Buttered egg noodles and mashed potatoes are traditional. I’ve also served it with lightly toasted baguette slices liberally spread with butter (you can’t stop the butter) for dipping in the stew.
Here is my favorite option:
This is long-grain, fragrant, super-delicious Basmati rice from my local Persian restaurant. The yellow grains are saffron rice they put on top. It’s always cooked perfectly al dente, which is why I have no problem paying $3.00 for it (also they have a superior rice cooker).
Here it is, the finished product.
Serve to guests. Put on crown, hold scepter, and accept guests’ vows of eternal fealty.
“It’s f#cking delicious, man.”
“Move the bodies after dinner?”
This stew tastes better the next day. The meat may seem a little dry initially, but after it marinates for a day or two, things really come together and all the ingredients have a big ol’ flavor-rave.
Alternatively, you can use a fork to shred the meat into smaller bits and serve it “pulled-pork” style. Doing this thickens the whole thing into almost a chili-like consistency. You will have to be careful during reheating not to overcook things.
When reheating, turn the heat to medium. If you have more time, reheat it over low. You want to reheat it with gradual heat to ensure everything is thoroughly heated but not overcooked.
Here is a handy-dandy reference chart of the different cuts of beef.
|2009 “Beef Made Easy” reference chart of cuts|
|by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association|I normally put the printable version of the recipes here, but I didn’t get around to making one. Check back later this week for the link which will be posted below (if you’re on Twitter, I’ll send out a tweet when it is up). Yes, there will be a metric version.
I’m still awkward on converting to metric, so bear with me.
f#ck I am so glad this post is done