If you could smell what I smell, you’d be really excited. It is fall. I spent the day in the sun, working on my yard and my house, walking around town and looking for warmth. It dropped down to 35 degrees last night, and we still haven’t turned on the heat. We needed to find it elsewhere, and so we started cutting… Carrots freshly picked from our garden (they are really short and funny looking, but very tasty), champignons de Paris*, garlic, onions, beef roast, bacon… Well, everything we needed to make the year’s first boeuf bourguignon*.
We’d both been craving it for awhile, but I hadn’t gotten around to making any. We were too busy with other projects, and this dish, well, it takes a lot of time and attention. I didn’t want to screw it up, not for the first of the year.
I’m including a recipe below, but with a disclaimer. I’m not big on exact quantities. Some people will tell you that cooking is a science. I’m not one of those people. Everyone’s tastes are different, and so I think each recipe should be adapted to fit them. I tend to say things like “add a few cloves of garlic” because, well, I love garlic, so I have a tendency to put in a lot of it. You may not be such a fervent fan of garlic, and if you followed my advice, you’d end up not liking the dish and thinking that the recipe was off, because it called for too much.
I will say that baking is a science. Don’t follow your recipe’s order? Forgot that pinch of salt? Added a teaspoon too much flour? These things can ruin a perfectly good cake, crust cookie. But in cooking, this is not the case. Yes, there are certain steps to follow, and yes, most times the order counts a lot. The quantities, not so much. I think someone that knows how to cook and is used to cooking can just wing it a little. It’s what I do. No two dishes are ever the same, and I’m constantly adjusting and tweaking and playing. For me, this is what being in the kitchen is all about. This is just my opinion.
Anyway, back to our beef stew. Make sure you have some time in front of you (the prep isn’t that long, but the cooking time is). Once all the ingredients are in the pot, you should cook it for at least 3 hours. The best is actually to make it the day before. It’s always better the second day. The more the ingredients hang out together, the stronger and more intense the flavor is going to be. Mine’s been on the stove top for just under three hours now, and although I’m starting to get really hungry and completely obsessed by the odor wafting through the entire house for hours now, I will stubbornly wait at least an hour more before digging in.
*champignons de Paris: button mushrooms
*boeuf bourguignon: Beef roast “Burgundy” style (as in the French region), which includes lots of delicious red wine
2 pounds beef roast, trimmed of excess fat
1-2 packages of bacon, cubed
1-2 onions, chopped
Several garlic cloves (I used six, I think)
Lots of carrots
Lots of button mushrooms
2 T flour
1 t nutmeg
A few cloves
1 bouillon cube
2 C water
4 C red wine
Herbs (I used thyme)
Salt & pepper
Start heating your pot/pan while you trim the beef. Cut the bacon into cubes and add it to the hot pan (it should smoke a little and brown)! Add your beef to the pan as you cut it, patting it dry with a paper towel first to help it brown. At the same time, add your garlic cloves, whole or chopped, or minced with your garlic press, add your onions and be generous with the salt and pepper. Once all the meat is in and has browned a bit, sift the flour (or cornstarch) over the meat and mix thoroughly; this will help thicken your sauce later and will save your sauce from getting lumpy if you add it later. Add the nutmeg now, as well.
Let this cook on high heat another minute or two, before dropping the temperature and preparing your vegetables. Cut your carrots and mushrooms into smallish pieces, adding them to the pan as you go. Once they’re all in, you’re ready to add your bouillon cube, your cloves, your water and your wine! Top it off with some dried or fresh herbs, put the lid on and let it cook at its own pace, a very slow one. There should be no more simmering; it needs to stew peacefully for at least three hours.
That’s it! You can stir it every once in awhile, but this is not a necessity, more of treat because once you take the lid off, the spicy scent of cloves and wine will fill your kitchen, and more. The dish is usually accompanied by pasta, and nothing beats fresh, home-made linguine. Enjoy!