Me and Julia

2011 went out with a bang; 2012 came in with a boeuf … Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.  And if you think that sounds tortured, you should have seen me in the kitchen trying to make sense of the recipe!

New Year's Day dinner: boeuf bourguignon, broccolini, potatoes

Three Christmases back I gave Donna a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I promised then to make boeuf bourguignon but never got around to it.  This Christmas, with a new Dutch oven sitting under the tree, I remembered my promise.  January 1st seemed the perfect day to tackle the project: Donna and Polly would be out all morning and most of the afternoon and I’d have the kitchen to myself.

The thing with French cooking is that everything is as hard as possible.  It isn’t like making chili con carne, where you just assemble ingredients and throw them into a stewpot; each part of the dish has to be prepared in some special way, using different techniques and procedures, then mixed and cooked some more.  It isn’t just the beef.  Those little pearl onions?  A recipe all to themselves, prepared and cooked in two stages.  The mushrooms?  Ditto.  You have to study the recipe and map out your cooking plan.  You’ll want everything you’ll need close at hand.  If you’re cooking by yourself, you’ll have to space the work out, doing one thing and then setting it aside while starting in on another thing; inevitably, as you near the end you’ll find yourself juggling four things at once despite your best planning.  You’ll use every pot, pan, and utensil you own, and you’d better have at least one of everything … if your kitchen doesn’t contain all the things Julia had in her kitchen, you’re going to be sorry.

Interestingly, I discovered a mistake in Julia’s original recipe.  She has you slice a carrot and onion and brown them in the fat you’ve previously browned the bacon lardons and beef in … but then never mentions the carrot and onion again.  So what do you do with those ingredients?  Well, we have tapes of some of Julia’s old TV shows, including the episode where she prepares boeuf bourguignon, so with the partially-prepared dish simmering on the stove, I watched Julia herself at work.  But now I was really confused, because in the TV version she doesn’t use the carrot and onion at all!  In desperation I searched Google and found a recipe “based on” Julia’s recipe, and there at last was the answer: the browned carrot and onion go into the pot with the beef, lardons, and wine sauce, and get strained out later.  I wonder if Julia was ever aware of these lapses?

I posted the recipe, including a detailed description of the techniques I used in preparing it, on my cooking blog.  What you probably want to know is, how was it?  It.  Was.  Wonderful.  All the work was worth it.  The beef melted in our mouths; the sauce was divine.  But it’s no everyday recipe.  This is, at least for a person of average skills, a big deal, and I probably won’t prepare it again until our next wedding anniversary, almost a year from now.

© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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