I value a thirty minute meal. I really do. In fact, I've come to embrace a speedy supper. The short and sweet ingredient list. Dinners designed so simply that my dog could, and perhaps should, have them waiting for me when I walk in the door from work at night. We're all pressed for time. We aim for flavor, shoot for quality, but settle on impatience.
Is a meal worth three whole hours? While I'd often times answer "no," there are a few exceptions. Some meals are more than ticking clocks and energy spent. They are labors of love, strong emphasis on the love. Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon is just that. Not merely three hours of slaving over a stove top, but rather 180 minutes of careful construction, of gently layering flavors, of building a meal meant to be as slowly and sweetly savored as it was prepared. A process that promises the most delectable of prizes.
Mrs. Child knew a thing or... eight about the nature of delicious food. Of fine quality. Of passionate eating. And though I've revered her for years as my personal savory savior, I admit to being intimidated by her recipes. As a chef and foodie, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is more like advanced calculus than basic arithmetic. What in the world is a lardon? And how will I ever get that casserole dish into my Easy Bake Oven?
I discarded any doubts, double knotted my apron, clasped a strand of pearls around my neck (because JC would've wanted me to look like a lady), and set about making the culinary masterpiece. I'll spare you the slow, building plot, and even the climax, and leave you with the resolution: this meal was utterly dazzling. For the first time in all my twenty five years, I was not just a home cook, but a chef. I felt engaged, enthralled, and enraptured by the piping hot platter I produced. Thick, tender pieces of red wine braised beef, an array of vegetables soaked in the most luscious and rich slow-simmered sauce scented with fresh thyme and parsley. A perfect symphony of flavors. Worthwhile. Absolutely worthwhile.
Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon (recipe, here, from abc.com)
Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sauté lardons (chopped bacon) in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
Heat an additional TBSP olive oil in the casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the plate with the lardons.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly.
Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.
Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust). Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.
Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.
When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.
Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.
Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.