Apr 11 2011

The Carnivore Inside Me

Published by Christine at 6:16 pm under Meat

It all started when our friends accepted our dinner invitation, and our vegetarian daughter was going to be out for the evening. What’s a flexitarian to do? Sure, I could have stuck to a meatless dinner plan, but why? The beauty of eating a mostly plant-based diet is that occasionally, you get to indulge in something that isn’t, without feeling so much as a twinge of guilt (unless you have strong objections to eating meat, which I absolutely respect). Since I eat meat or poultry infrequently, I really enjoy making something worthwhile when I do: time and effort are not an issue. A good thing that, since the fate of our dinner was quickly decided: it would be beef, and it would be à la bourguignonne (literally: Burgundy-style). Given that this is Burgundy we’re talking about, wine is involved, of course. Hang on to your plates, it could get mighty delicious.

It had been a while since I had made one of those. For inspiration, I consulted the premier American source for such (Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking), and what’s arguably the top French source (Paul Bocuse, now 85, the grand-daddy of nouvelle cuisine). I found things I liked in both: marinating the meat with wine and cognac was Bocuse’s idea (and it makes perfect sense as the alcohol and tannins in the wine help flavor and tenderize the meat), and adding broth and tomato paste along with the wine while cooking, mellowing the taste and adding dimension to the sauce, was Julia’s contribution. Bocuse also called for a touch of sugar. This is done to round off the edges in the sauce, which can be a little too acidic if left to its own device. I just felt plain sugar was, well, maybe a touch pedestrian. I was looking for something with a little more character. Honey would have been fine, but being fresh out,* I settled on a really smooth operator: dark chocolate. Since there’s only a little bit of it in the sauce, you cannot recognize the taste per se, but it turns the sauce into velvet. It’s truly the perfect finishing touch.

As the dish gently bubbled in the oven, we sat outside with drinks and snacks, enjoying one of the first sunny and mild late afternoons of spring. When we came back in, there were only a few more things to be done before our dinner was ready to serve. We started with a salad of shredded carrots, lightly dressed with vinegar, horseradish and walnut oil. The Boeuf was succulent: fork tender and rich, in a dark, smooth and perfectly thickened sauce. I served it with a simple side of steamed potatoes sprinkled with a lot of finely chopped parsley. For dessert, our friends had made Nigella’s Damp Apple and Almond Cake: sweet and luscious (and flourless).

Such a lovely evening. I wonder when my daughter will be going out again…


* I can only imagine how horrified my sister Catherine would be at the thought of being out of such a staple. Last summer, she held a honey tasting for me one morning over breakfast. There were over a dozen to choose from, each one very different in origin, color and taste, from the others. So delicious!


Boeuf à la bourguignonne


3 lbs rump roast, cut in 2″ x 2″ pieces
3 to 4 cups full-bodied red wine (such as Pinot Noir)
3 Tbsp cognac
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf + a few sprigs each parsley and thyme)
6 oz salt cured pork
1 large onion
1 large carrot
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 to 3 cups beef broth
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 oz bittersweet dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao)
2 Tbsp butter
1 lb mushrooms, quartered
30 or so pearl onions
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Place the first 5 ingredients in a large glass (no metal) bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let marinate for 1.5 to 2 hours.

In the beginning, there was wine. And cognac.

Cut the rind off the salt pork and cut in 2″ long by 1/2″ wide pieces, like this:

These are called lardons in French.

Blanch them in boiling water for about 5 min. This will eliminate most of the salt. Dry them on paper towels and gently saute in a large dutch oven until brown and slightly crisp. Slice onions and carrots and in the bacon fat that was rendered, gently cook them until lightly golden. Remove from pan.

Honestly, I have no idea how I managed to save these long enough to go back in the sauce.


... and after.

Pre-heat oven to 325. Take the meat out of the marinade (save the marinade – this will be the base for your sauce). Dry the meat cubes thoroughly; if the meat is not dry, it will no brown properly. In the dutch oven, heat up a little bit of olive oil and brown the meat on all sides, proceeding in batches.

Brown is beautiful.

When all the meat has been browned, lightly season with salt and pepper, place back in pan and sprinkle with flour. Cook over medium heat until the flour begins to form a crust on the meat. Add marinade, garlic, broth, bacon and tomato paste. Mix well and bring to a slow boil. It will look like this:

As George Takei would say: 'Oh, my!'

Cover, and place in pre-heated oven. Adjust the temperature of the oven so that the stew gently bubbles – you do not want it to reach a rolling boil. Let it cook for 2.5 hours.

Prepare the pearl onions and mushrooms. Peel onions and quarter mushrooms. Fry them gently in butter until golden. Season them with salt, pepper, and a pinch of dried thyme. Add a little bit of water and cover immediately. Let cook for 5 to 8 min. Uncover and let the water evaporate, another 5 min. Place aside.

Remove stew from oven. Remove bouquet garni. Add chocolate and mix well until melted. Add onions and mushrooms. Let cool for a few minutes. Place in serving bowl, top with parsley and serve, along with steamed potatoes or rice.

Let the show begin.

Don't forget a glass of Burgundy to go with this!

Serves 6.


One response so far

One Response to “The Carnivore Inside Me”

  1. Roberton 11 Apr 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Take my word for it, this stuff is worth the effort!

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