I have made several posts in honor of Julia Child on her birthday August 15th. I missed it this year but I decided to still pay homage to Julia, but on the anniversary of the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in October 1961. I have just finished her autobiography, My Life in France, which was a wonderful book. She fascinates me because she is a mix of playfulness and intense focus. I love her respect for good ingredients as well as her delivery of information in that sing-song voice, which added an element of fun to her shows.
I decided to tackle a lovely French dinner to surprise my boyfriend. Since I work very long days during harvest, I decided to not only pre-prep but also finagle a slow-cooker version of the famous boeuf bourginon, beef stew in red wine, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I slightly altered the steps to work for the slow cooker, such as layering the pearl onions and mushrooms on top so they wouldn't get overcooked. I browned but didn't braise the pearl onions because they would braise slowly all day. I used arrowroot instead of flour for the final thickening of the sauce. Instead of cooking in the oven, I just substituted the slow cooker. With the exception of these few steps I stayed loyal to the original recipe. I think it came out really well!
I'm particularly proud of the fact that I peeled every one of those pearl onions! I planned to get frozen ones and then thaw and brown them, but apparently frozen pearl onions are no longer en vogue so I made them from scratch. I just followed the instructions in the book for blanching them until the skins became tender, then peeled them all while I was watching The Peanuts Movie. They had a much better flavor than frozen, so it was worth it. After browning the onions, I browned the mushrooms in the same pan, which pulled the flavor and color left behind by the onions. I did this step two days in advance. So much of this recipe can be done in advance, which is perfect for a dinner party or, if you're like me, and can't devote all the steps in one night.
Traditionally boeuf bourguignon is served with boiled potatoes, but I pulled out all the stops and made pommes boulangere, which are like scalloped potatoes but use broth instead of milk and/or cream. I had wanted to make these potatoes for such a long time!
I also made a simple green salad with what I call a southern French dressing: red wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice, a little garlic, fresh herbs, and good olive oil.
Dessert was a classic chocolate mousse! I hardly ever make dessert, so this was a real treat. I'm glad I used small cups instead of one serving bowl because it is so delicious we probably would have scarfed the whole thing down.
The wine I cooked with was a full-flavored young red Chianti, as suggested in the book. I wanted to serve a Burgundy or Pinot noir with dinner, but I went with this Chateau Bel-Air Bordeaux. My boyfriend likes Merlot and I like Cabernet Sauvignon (but I'm a Zinfandel girl at heart), so Bordeaux seemed like a nice compromise.
Slow Cooker Boeuf Bourguignon
Browned pearl onions and mushrooms:
1 1/2 tbsp butter
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil, divided
10 oz fresh pearl onions or small onions, such as cipollini, or 1 frozen and thawed
1 lb quartered button mushrooms
1. Heat the butter and 1 1/2 tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add onions and brown, turning often. As said in the book "don't expect them to brown evenly."
2. Add half the remaining oil. Add mushrooms and brown, stirring often. They will first soak up the oil, then as their moisture yields the oil with return to the pan, along with mushroom juices. I did the mushrooms in two batches, which is why I divided the oil. If you pan is large enough, you can do one batch, but I wanted them to brown and not steam. "Don't crowd the mushrooms!" as Julia would say. This can be done a couple days ahead of time. Cool and then refrigerate, covered.
Blanching the bacon lardons:
6 oz bacon
2 quarts boiling water
1. My tip for cutting bacon is make sure it's very cold and your knife is sharp. I don't bother separating the pieces, I just keep them in the stack they came in and cut perpendicular to the length of the bacon.
2. Add bacon to boiling water in a large saucepan and cook 10 min. Remove with slotted spoon. Pat the bacon dry. Pour the water out of the pan. I used the same pan for the next steps. The lardons can also be made ahead. Just drain, pat dry, cool and then refrigerate, covered.
Browning the meat and vegetables, assembling the stew, making the sauce:
1 tbsp oil
bacon lardons from previous step
3 lbs lean stew meat, cut into 2 inch chunks and dried well with paper towel
1 diced carrot
1 diced onion
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt (adjust accordingly to the saltiness of your broth. The orignal recipe calls for 1 tsp but my broth was somewhat salty)
2 cups full-bodied, young red wine, such as Chianti, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Bordeax-St. Emilion, Burgundy, or Pinot noir
1 cup beef broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, grated or mashed
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Previously cooked mushrooms and pearl onions
3 tbsp red wine, beef broth, or water
2 tbsp arrowroot starch
Minced parsley, for garnish
1. Add oil to the saucepan over medium heat. Add lardons and saute until lightly brown, about 3 minutes. Remove to the slow cooker.
2. In the same fat, brown the beef, a few pieces at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan, which creates steam and prevents browning. Remove the pieces and add to the crock of your slow cooker.
3. Saute vegetables in the remaining fat. Cook until brown. Add to slow crock. Stir in wine, broth, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Place mushrooms and pearl onions on top. Can be refrigerated at this point. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Before cooking, remove slow cooker crock at least 20 minutes, otherwise the cold crock may crack due to the heat of the slow cooker. Cook 8-10 hours on low or 6-8 hours on high.
4. To make the sauce, strain all liquid from the stew. Remove bay leaf. Add the stew meat and vegetables to your serving dish and cover to keep warm. Add to a saucepan, degreasing if necessary by spooning off excess oil, and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce liquid until slightly thickened, by about one-third. Blend the 3 tbsp of your preferred liquid with the arrowroot starch and add to boiling liquid. Stir well, seasoning to taste. You may need to add more salt, pepper, tomato paste, thyme, or an extra glug of red wine or broth, depending on your taste. I added a small pinch of extra thyme and extra black pepper. Pour sauce over the stew, sprinkle with parsley, and serve proudly.