This may come across as weird but here goes. I have always been intimidated by beef.
I still eat it though. I love the way a beef stew smells wholesome and robust. I enjoy the way a rare steak gives away under the pressure of my teeth. Having been brought up in a liberal Hindu family, eating beef is not really uncommon on this side of the Chowdhury legacy. But eating it somehow makes me feel reckless. Just ordering a New York strip makes me feel as if I dare to defy all the pundits, gurus and holy men who’ve made it blasphemous for us to murder cows and then, just to rub their noses in it, I brazenly pop a humongous cheeseburger patty into my mouth and chew hungrily while frowning comically at them.
In spite of all this noisy beef-eating I’m still in awe of it. Mostly because I never know what to do with it.
Beef, asparagus, meringues and raspberries. These are just a few things that I’ve felt this way about. I’ve read through a hundred recipes involving at least one of these and I’ve never had the will-power (I’m deliberately not using the word ‘courage’ here) to make any of them. I’d eat any of those in a heartbeat though.
Now if I had to try out some clueless psychiatry, I would blame it on my childhood. I didn’t ‘grow up’ eating any of those things mentioned above, and that is probably why I feel uncomfortable whenever I’m presented with the prospect of using any one of them in a dish. Though I must say at this point, that I have spent the last three summers with my head in vats of raspberries, and last year I willed myself to learn how to make a mean pavlova.
Beef, is still slumped in his high-backed winged armchair, the corners of his lips drooping downwards, silently staring at me with his heavy-lidded eyes.
Getting to be a pro at handling beef is definitely going to take some time and if I’m asked to cook a steak soon, I’d probably spent the rest of day whining and flailing about in the kitchen without achieving any damn thing. So, as soon as I got some time away from all the sweetness, I was up for a challenge. Sort of. I knew I had to bite the bullet and take a chance with something huge…not wimpy hamburgers made out of mince beef. But something more refined and complicated. And then it came forth — a boeuf bourgignon recipe…from a couple of French women, naturally.
First it was Julia Child warbling instructions at me. And then there was Clotilde Dusoulier, with her wide-eyed smile waving at me with a copy of Chocolate & Zucchini. I also consulted Robert Carrier and then set off to chart my own route.
This Burgundian beef stew cloaked in light amber is only slightly less relaxing that a quick chicken soup. I pleasantly stand corrected for thinking that the process would be complicated. The result was rich in texture and deep in flavour, that was induced by the cognac I used instead of red wine, even while my stock was running out. The bacon plays a huge role, even considering that I used just a couple of strips of it. But the cake is taken away by the chocolate. My hand slipped (*wink*) as I was adding the cocoa powder and I added a teaspoon more than was required. Heavenly. I would suggest you to allow your hand to slip as well. Served with a side of steamed rice the meaty stew is perfect to warm the cockles of your heart.
Well then. Bring it on, beef.
From a variety of sources including Julia Child, Clotilde Dusoulier and Robert Carrier
NOTE: The wine used can be a good Burgundy, a young Chianti or even Pinot Noir. I’ve used Renault cognac here. Different recipes use different amounts of wine and beef stock, and then there are recipes which don’t use stock at all. Ideally use equal amounts of red wine and beef stock (about 2-3 cups each). However, since I ran out of cognac, the recipe below uses only about 1 cup of it.
The beef chunks need to be dried in paper towels; any dampness will prevent them from browning. The consistency of the stew depends on your taste really. i wanted something runny instead of thick and gravy-like so I added about 1 tablespoon of flour. If you require the gravy to be thick, increase the amount of flour to 2 tablespoons and for the last 20 minutes of cooking time in the oven, remove the lid and turn up the oven temperature.
Boeuf Bourgignon is best with steamed rice or crusty bread. Can be served with buttered noodles as well.
1 pound button mushrooms, quartered
2 tbsp butter
2 strips of un-smoked bacon, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
3 pounds well-trimmed boneless beef chuck, cut into 2″ cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp flour (see head note)
1 cup cognac, (see head note)
3 cups beef stock (see head note)
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
Preheat oven to 160 °C (325 °F).
In a pan sauté the mushrooms in butter till brown and soft. Keep aside.
In a deep-bottomed pot/cesserole, sauté the bacon in 1 tbsp oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Reheat the pan until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef. Sauté the beef in the bacon fat in batches making sure not to crowd the pieces (the pieces need to brown on all sides, not sweat). Add the browned pieces of beef to the bacon. Lower the heat to medium. In the same fat, add the onions, shallots and carrots. Cook till the carrots soften. Add the cooked veggies to the beef and bacon. Pour out the sautéing fat.
Return beef to the casserole. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Stir everything around till the flour is cooked and no white traces of it remain. Add the bacon and veggies and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cognac and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add the garlic, thyme, parsley, tomato paste and bay leaf. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Cover the casserole and set it in the oven. Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. About 1 hour into the cooking add the mushrooms and stir in the cocoa powder. Return to the oven. The stew is done when the meat is fork-soft.