Sunday, 5 September 2010

Boeuf Bourguinonne and me

If this gosh-darned crazy old world meant anything, my middle name would be Beef Stewed With Red Wine. But it’s not. Dang!

I love big, beefy, wine-flavoured stews and braises. Our cold winter this year has meant ideal times for warming meals, gluhwein, nestling, candles, and general Gem├╝tlichkeit. Recently, Delly and Bells wrote about boeuf Bourguinonne, inspiring me to revisit this classic dish. Winey beef stews have been my default setting for as long as I have cooked, and Burgundian beef stew is one of the best. BB is not the first beef – wine stew I ever cooked. That was its Greek country cousin, stifado — from Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food. But I love all of them.

So I pulled out my bible — Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, and re-read her recipe. As usual, she adds lots of cultural and personal context. And, as usual, I followed the spirit, rather than the strict letter of the formula.

I always use chuck, shin, or other cheaper, tougher cut for these dishes. I think they have great flavour, and I’ve never been able to bring myself to use expensive rump in such a dish. Chuck, and especially shin, have a lot of fine connective tissue in the meat, which breaks down over slow, gentle cooking to give richness and body to the sauce I almost always flame the casserole after deglazing, with a splash of brandy. And, beside, flaming the brandy pleases the little boy in all of us! But I more or less followed her method.

With my basic cooking set up, fine temperature control is hard, so I tended to hover and peek more than normal. You don’t want this pot to boil, but just simmer very gently. It takes hours, so do this on a wet Saturday arvo while you read the paper or watch Elvis movies. You can also cook it in a slow oven. After a while, the flat had a wonderful beef stew smell. When the meat was tender the sauce was a bit thin, so I drained it off and reduce it hard for a while to a thicker consistency.

As usual, it was rich and very satisfying. The speck and mushrooms add great depth of flavour. For a bit of fun I garnished it with heart-shaped croutons, which is a classic French bistro touch. And lots of mash to soak up the sauce.

And I’ll be back again, as I am a few times each winter, to revisit this great recipe.