Monday, February 23, 2009

Classic Beef Bourguignon

This was a long process, so this is going to be a long post. Consider yourself warned! From the moment I discovered our gourmet group's last dinner theme was to be french, I knew instantly that I wanted to make Beef Bourguignon. It was my turn to host again and I knew that this dish could be prepared days ahead, I also knew that if I made it it would be one more thing to cross of my mile-long 'Want to Cook or Bake' list. Though I'd never made it before, I was pretty familiar with the dish and what it involved. I've seen Barefoot Contessa make it as well as a couple others. Of course when it came time to find the recipe, any old recipe wouldn't do. I googled and googled until I stumbled across the most authentic, technical, and possibly difficult Beef Bourguignon recipe out there. I was immediately intrigued because the recipe was oh-so-french and some of the steps stood out and promised the best braise ever. You can read the entire article and lead-in to the recipe here.

Some of these steps are a bit unusual from the more simple recipes we see today, these included things like reducing the red wine before turning it into a marinade in order to eliminate the harsh acidity from the wine. When covering the aromatics, beef, and vegetables to marinate with plastic wrap, punch holes in the top to make sure the sulfur which the onions will release has a place to escape. No tomato paste. This will make the sauce have unwanted acidity. When braising, it's very important to cover the stew with parchment paper and then an inverted aluminum foil lid which goes under the dish lid, this ensures that steam condensation won't drip down into the braise diluting the rich sauce. You see where I am going here? These are not typical in an 'easy' beef bourguignon recipe. But, they seemed simple enough and there was no way I was not going to use this recipe.

Another thing that was a bit daunting about this dish is some of the ingredients. For starters, it calls for 6 POUNDS of beef chuck. Yikes. Pricey. Another thing, it also calls for two ham hocks, I've never worked with these or even knew our local grocer carried them! I've seen them in many recipes but just figured it was something you could only track down in the south. Boy, was I wrong. Then there are the two entire bottles of good red wine. I was in too far by this point. Nothing was going to stop me. All in all, I'm happy to have made this pricey, labor-intensive dish. I don't think I have ever made such a complicated or technical dish. Lots of cutting, sauteing, straining, browning, reducing, deglazing. It was like taking a fancy french cooking class. Now, to accompany this glorious dish, you didn't think I was just going to make a plain old side, did you? No way, Jose.

Potato puree. I also knew that right from the get-go. And, I knew that I was going to try and make the best damn mashed potatoes of my life. This was for the gourmet group, remember? One thing I love about these dinners is how they motivate and inspire one to make or buy things they have always wanted. Ashley S. added to her creme brulee collection, Mallory made homemade brioche and finally used her authentic french caramelizing mechanism. And me, I finally bought a potato ricer. I remember back in cooking school how the chefs always stated that ricers make for the smoothest mashed potatoes. Well, now I've got one and I love it. I've read about Joël Robuchon's legendary potato puree before and now was the time to make it. I will attach the recipe at the bottom of the post. The last thing I will say about these potatoes is that I never ever thought I would willingly force mashed potatoes through a fine-mesh sieve but I did. And they were fabulous. Will I do it again? As Sarah Palin would say, 'you betcha.'

adapted from Madeline Kamman

For marinating the beef:
2 bottles full-bodied red wine
2 shallots, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. roughly chopped parsley stems
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
6 lb. beef blade roast or beef chuck, trimmed of all external fat and cut in 1-1/2-inch cubes
3 Tbs. olive oil

For the braise:
2 ham hocks, fresh or smoked
Coarse salt
3 Tbs. olive oil; more as needed
Stems from 1-1/2 lb. button mushrooms, caps reserved for the garnish
6 to 8 cups veal or turkey leg stock or beef stock)
1 bouquet garni of 10 parsley stems, 1 sprig thyme (or 1/4 tsp. thyme leaves), and 1 bay leaf
2 large cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Prepared parchment and foil lid (See "Master Class: Beef Bourguignon")

For the garnishes:
12 oz. lean, meaty slab bacon, top layer of fat removed and fatty ends trimmed
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
36 small white onions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. stock or water
Reserved button mushroom caps (or larger mushrooms, quartered)

For thickening the sauce:
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 Tbs. all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For serving:
5 slices (1/3 inch thick) country French boule, cut in half, a crustless triangle cut from each half
About 1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; plus more whole leaves for garnish

To make the marinade:
Empty the wine into a large nonreactive saucepan, add the shallots, and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until reduced to 1 qt., about 20 min. Cool completely.
In a bowl, toss together the onions, carrot, thyme, bay leaf, and parsley stems. Spread half of this mixture on the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish.
Mix the allspice, nutmeg, and cloves in a small dish. Sprinkle the cubes of beef with the spices and then toss with the olive oil. Arrange the meat on top of the aromatics in the baking dish and then cover with the remaining aromatics. Pour the cooled reduced wine over everything, using your fingers to make room between the meat for the wine to enter (don’t toss yet). The wine should just cover the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and punch a few holes in the plastic (so sulfur gas from the onions can escape). Refrigerate and marinate for 3 hours. Toss the contents, cover again with the plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

To prepare the braise:
The next morning, cover the ham hocks with cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil with a dash of salt and simmer until softened, about 45 min. Meanwhile, drain the marinated meat and aromatics in a colander set over a bowl (reserve the marinade). Remove the beef cubes, dry them thoroughly (I roll them in an old, clean dishtowel, but paper towels are fine), and set aside. Pat dry the aromatic vegetables. When the hocks are soft, drain them and cut or pull off the rinds. Scrape the rinds of all extra fat. Cut the rinds into 1-inch squares; set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high. Salt the pieces of beef lightly and sear them in batches until browned on all sides, 3 to 5 min., adjusting the heat so the meat doesn’t burn. Transfer to a plate.
In the oil left in the skillet, add the drained aromatic vegetables and the mushroom stems. Sauté on medium high, stirring often, until the vegetables cook down and soften, about 10 min. Remove from the heat and transfer the vegetables to a plate. Sop up excess oil in the pan with a wad of paper towels. Add a cup of stock to the skillet and scrape up the caramelized juices. Pour the deglazed juices into the braising pot.
Heat the oven to 325°F. Add the reduced wine marinade to the deglazed skillet (or a saucepan, if the skillet is too small) and bring to a boil, letting the liquid reduce by one-third. Strain the marinade through a fine mesh strainer directly into the braising pot.
Add the reserved pieces of rind to the braising pot, along with the browned meat and vegetables, bouquet garni, garlic, bouillon cubes, and pepper. Pour in enough stock to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Lay the parchment and the foil lid inside, following the photos on p. 28. Cover with the pot lid and bake until the meat is extremely tender and a metal skewer penetrates a piece of meat and comes out without resistance (a meat thermometer should read at least 165°F), 2 to 2-3/4 hours.

To prepare the garnishes:
While the beef is in the oven, cut the bacon into strips 1/3 inch thick, and then cut across the strips to create 1/3-inch thick slices, called lardons. (If you put the bacon in the freezer for 15 to 20 min., it will be easier to cut.) Cover the lardons with cold water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 to 3 min. to remove the smoky flavor and some saltiness. Drain well and pat dry. Heat 2 Tbs. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and brown the lardons on all sides until they’re golden but not crisp or brittle, 12 to 15 min. Transfer the lardons to a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard the fat in the pan but leave the caramelized juices.
While the lardons are browning, bring about 1 qt. of water to a boil. Add the onions, simmer for 1 min., and turn off the heat. Remove a few onions. When they’re cool enough to handle, cut off the root end, slip off the skin, and cut a 1/8-inch-deep cross in the root end to prevent the onions from falling apart during cooking. Repeat with the remaining onions.

Add another 2 Tbs. butter to the pan with the caramelized bacon juices and sauté the onions on medium heat until they’re golden brown, about 10 min. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add 2 Tbs. stock or water to the pan, and roll the onions in the forming glaze. Transfer them to the plate with the lardons.

Without cleaning the pan, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter and sauté the reserved mushroom caps (or quarters) on medium-high heat until they begin to brown, about 2 min. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium low, and cook until the mushrooms have given off all their liquid, about 5 min. Turn the heat to medium high, uncover the pan, and cook until the liquid concentrates again and the mushrooms turn shiny, about 5 min. Transfer them to the plate with the onions and lardons.
Set aside the skillet, but don’t clean it (if there are black or burned bits in the pan, remove them).

To thicken the sauce and finish the braise:
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces of meat from the braising pot to a bowl. Strain the sauce that remains through a fine strainer into a bowl, pressing on the solids. Let stand until the fat has completely surfaced. Remove the fat using a gravy separator, a basting tube, or a spoon. Wipe the braising pot dry.
Set the reserved garnish-cooking skillet over medium heat. Deglaze the pan by pouring in some of the defatted sauce and scraping up the caramelized juices. Add this deglazing liquid to the defatted sauce.
Return the sauce to the braising pot, passing it through a fine strainer, and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, knead together the butter and flour to a paste, called a beurre manié. Using a whisk, rapidly blend small amounts of the beurre manié into the simmering sauce until it is the consistency you like. You may not need all the beurre manié. Simmer the sauce for about 5 min. to cook off the raw flour taste.
Return the meat and garnishes to the pot with the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Shake the pan back and forth on medium low to blend the elements. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 min., leaving the lid askew so steam can evaporate (trapping the steam would dilute the sauce). Correct the final seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, or, if you’re serving wine, fine-tune the sauce as instructed in the wine sidebar below.

To serve the braise:
Heat the oven to 275°F. Set the bread triangles on a baking sheet and top them with a cake rack to prevent buckling. Bake until dry, turning once, about 8 min.
As close as possible to serving time, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan until it starts shimmering. Fry the bread, a few pieces at a time, until golden, turning once. Drain on a thick layer of paper towels.
Transfer the finished braise (well reheated, if necessary) into a deep country dish or platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and arrange the croutons alternated with parsley leaves all around the dish.

Joël Rubouchon's Potato Puree
Serves 6 - 8

Ever homey, ever elegant, ever irresistible, this is the dish that helped make chef Robuchon’s reputation. Clever man that he is, he realized early on that if you give people potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes, they’ll be eternally grateful, forever fulfilled.” From “Simply French, Patricia Wells presents the cuisine of Joël Robuchon 1991, William Morrow and Company, Inc.

2 pounds baking potatoes, such as Idaho Russets
3/4 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup, unsalted butter, chilled, cut into pieces
Sea salt to taste

Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel them. Place the potatoes in a large pot, add salted water, 1 tablespoon salt per quart of water, to cover by at least 1 inch. Simmer, uncovered, over moderate heat until a knife inserted into a potato comes away easily, 20 to 30 minutes.Drain the potatoes as soon as they are cooked. If they are allowed to cool in the water, the potatoes will end up tasting reheated.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil over high heat. Set aside.
As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them. Pass the potatoes through the finest grid of a food mill into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan set over low heat. With a wooden spatula, stir the potatoes vigorously to dry them, 4 to 5 minutes. Now begin adding about 12 tablespoons of the butter, little by little, stirring vigorously until each batch of butter is thoroughly incorporated; the mixture should be fluffy and light. Then slowly add about three fourths of the hot milk in a thin stream, stirring vigorously until the milk is thoroughly incorporated.
Pass the mixture through a flat fine mesh, drum, sieve, into another heavy bottomed saucepan. Stir vigorously, and if the puree seems a bit heavy and stiff, add additional butter and milk, stirring all the while. Note: few of us have a real French flat bottomed screen for scraping potato puree. Simply use any mesh sieve you have in the kitchen and press down on the potato puree as you push it through the sieve. This second step of pureeing is the true secret behind Chef Robuchon’s recipe.
Taste for seasoning. The puree may be made up to 1 hour in advance. Place in the top of a double boiler, uncovered, over simmering water. Stir occasionally to keep smooth.

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