We saw Julie and Julia a couple weeks ago and so of course I had to come home and order a copy of her cookbook from Amazon.com, and then, pace Slate, we set about making the film’s signature dish, boeuf bourguignon. This is basically chunks of beef browned and then simmered in red wine, served with mushrooms and onions and boiled potatoes, but the recipe has all sorts of little details: you blanch bits of bacon before sauteing it, and using its fat to saute first the beef, then the vegetables (onion and carrot); after sauteing the beef, you sprinkle it with flour and then brown it, before adding the wine and stock for the long simmering process; and you separately prepare the onions and mushrooms to serve with the beef.
My policy is to follow a recipe to the letter, the first time I make something, and so I even used all the butter that Julia calls for to prepare the onions and mushrooms — much more than I’m used to using to cook anything, especially considering my devotion in recent years to the principles of ‘clean eating’ and a diet of lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. (With which I took off 25 excess pounds in three months last year. Another story.) But like I said, the first time.
The process was not without misadventure; not owning anything like Julia’s
“fireproof casserole”, we guessed incorrectly about the suitability of a ceramic pot in which to brown the beef, before adding the liquid and then moving to the oven. After sitting above a stove burner for 45 minutes, the pot shattered when I lifted it. Remarkably, we managed to recover not just all the solids, the beef and vegetables, but most of the liquid, from the top of the stove (fortunately clean enough), and with just a little supplementation of additional wine, we then simmered the concoction for the required 2-3 hours on the stove top in a stainless steel pot, rather than in the oven. Worked just fine.
Julia’s cookbook is fascinating because it reflects a different era in which even ambitious chefs did not have the access to fresh vegetables, or a variety of herbs, that is common now. Thus it has recipes for how to cook frozen asparagus, and frozen green beans!
Then we made chicken fricassee. (Now I know what fricassee means.) Next, I think, we should try that ultimate challenge of French cooking: a souffle. I’ll let you know.