Monday, December 28, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

Of all the crazy time consuming things I have ever embarked to cook, this one takes the cake. Boeuf Bourguignon from Bouchon. It involves a lot of prep, and really lends itself to a restaurant setting. Keller takes apart the essential stew, and elects to cook everything separately. This is a very practical approach, it allows you to have more control over the cooking methods, taste, and when ordered all the separate preparations can be throw together in a snap. In this particular recipe the thing that captivated me the most of the intense colour of the perfectly prepared vegetables.

Firstly, the red wine reduction. I knew immediately after glancing at the amount of mirepoix that goes into this, that I was going to end up with a very tasty reduction indeed. I did get slightly confused when I first read the recipe, and was pondering whether or not the wine was reduced and then the vegetables, or if there were two infusions of vegetables. I elected for the two infusions. Note, if you attempt the recipes that Keller notes to use 1 cup sliced mushrooms and/or stems. On account of the fact that you will be removing the stems for the later preparations it makes more sense to use stems and reduce waste. The wine is reduced to almost nothing, new vegetables are added along with the meat, and topped up with stock.

On the subject of meat. Sadly, I was not able to locate boneless short ribs, and elected with regular stewing beef -I curse this town for its lack of diverse food availability. I went through all of the meat and began to remove most of the silver skin, and fat. Normally a bit of fat wouldn't be a huge objection, however this is Thomas Keller and refined perfection. Off with the fat. The silver skin however must come off. It does not break down no matter how much you cook it, and it taste like a rubber band.

I prefer to use cast iron to sear meat. Its heavy, holds heat well, and will not cool down too much between batches. Season the meat just before you are about to brown it, or the salt will pull out some moisture and hinder the browning process. Keller makes it very clear in this recipe to not crowd the pan. I remember before I had attended culinary school, my idea of seasoning and browning was very different then the idea I have now. I never used enough salt and pepper, and ate a great deal of spaghetti and meat sauce with ugly grey beef. Now I am fortunate enough to know better.

After all the meat was browned I ran into a horrible dilemma. What am I suppose to do with all this fond? The fond is all the dark brown and black stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan after browning. It dosent say to deglaze it in the recipe, however every ounce of my training could not for a second believe that one of the greatest chefs in the world would throw it away. I deviated, made a judgement call, I am sorry Thomas. I deglazed with red wine, and added it to the reduction. I could only imagine that this was either left out of the method accidently, or Keller elected to leave it out on account of clarity of the reduction. I went for flavour.

One technique used in the recipe is the separation of the meat and braising vegetables by a layer of cheesecloth. I find this ingenious, not for the reasons outlined in the book, but because I am lazy and loath the inevitable build up of veg in the chinois that is an absolute pain in the rectum if you are not lucky enough to own a commercial dishwasher.

The meat ended up braising for two hours or so. I forgot to mention the insane amount of straining of the braising liquid. I remember reading in The French Laundry Cookbook something along the lines of straining their sauces a great deal. I found this reduction wasent fatty, and fairly clear, but strained it every step of the way anyway. Everything was strained, the meat and the braising liquid were cooled, reunited, and spent the night in the fridge. The meat will reabsorb the braising liquid and become much juicer, and the braising liquid will also act as a marinade. End of day one, and the start of my hang over the next day *smirk.

Well its the next day, my head hurts, it was a late night, but luckily my ridiculously strong Kicking Horse coffee is taking the edge off.

I started the cooking today by removing the meat, straining the liquid, and reducing. There seemed to be an abundance of braising liquid to actual meat and vegetables. The preperations of the garnishes may cook very daunting, and I was a little scared at first. It is however not as time consuming as you might think. I firstly got the pearl onions peeled, peeled and cut the carrot (no baby french carrots) and got four pots on the stove. All the pots are pretty much filled with a combination of smashed garlic, bay, thyme, and salt. Start the pearl onions, and potatoes at the same time, they both take about 15 minutes. During the last 5 or so get the carrots going. Strain, and let everything cool when theyre done. The wine vinegar for the pearl onions was a great touch, it really excentuates the natural flavour. The lardons can go in the oven as well.

Final strech, everything is done, now its time to put it all together. It has been a long two days in the kitchen and I am just ready to eat the damned stew, I am bloody starved. Sauted the mushrooms, warmed the bacon, got everything hot and together. Time to eat.

Afterthoughts: Is this a good recipe for a home cook? Absolutly not. Its time consuming, finicky, and frankly I dont think most home cooks even own a chinois. This recipe is a great example of how Thomas Keller and his team take something rustic, and refine it through attention to detail. It would be great to serve in a restaurant. The vibrant colors and the taste is absolutly unbeatable, and undeniably the best beef bourguignon I have ever eaten. Luckily, I have leftovers.