Sunday, February 26, 2012

Boeuf Bourguinon and Steamed Baby Potatoes in Parchment

This stew would have been much easier to make if I wasn’t distracted by Charlize Theron’s charming good looks. Let me explain. I don’t own a fancy wine opener, the only one I have is a cheap one I purchased at the LCBO a few years ago, it’s fairly dependable given I’ve successfully uncorked a number of wine bottles since then, but then I learned that when an awesome movie like The Italian Job is playing on TV, my focus should really be on opening the wine.

The wine opener I had was a simple metal corkscrew with a little lever that leaned on the bottle’s lips to lift up the cork. If I was smart enough, I would have began twisting at the cork’s centerpoint, but alas, Ms. Theron took my breath away and I had started twisted the cork to the side. When I tugged it out, there was a loud crack and I was left with a broken corkscrew in one hand and the remaining metal stuck snuggly in the cork (enter loud swearing).

I looked on YouTube, Google, and Chowhound on ways to solve my problem. Nothing. So for the next painstaking 93 minutes, I dug through the cork with a knife, scattering cork debris all over the kitchen instead of marinating the beef and vegetables for the stew. It took me the full length of the movie (and commercial breaks) to get through the damn cork. I hate cork.

But I don’t hate boeuf bourguinon. It’s miraculous how the simplicity of time can make everything taste so much better (except mold, I suspect that’s not very delicious, except I suppose cheese, since it is technically “mold” but I digress). From Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini (who I had the honor of pouncing on meeting), comes a beef stew that makes all that stubborn cork-fighting worth it.

I first made this in university, when I was discovering my love for food and all things culinary. As I danced in my slippers filling the kitchen with the salty, irresistible smells of bacon from my roomie’s fire engine red Le Creuset dutch oven, I was intoxicated from not the whole bottle of wine that marinated the chunky meat overnight, but by the sheer excitement of cooking something new, something different. I remember tucking into a steaming bowl of bourguinon hours later, sopping up the juices with a hunk of bread, oblivious to the loud, raucous behavior from nobody other than my drunk neighbours.

This time I was just as thrilled to make bourguinon, there was also dancing around the sizzling pot and The Weeknd blasting in my apartment for added effect (music makes food taste so much better, you should try it). I gave the bourguinon a Canadian touch and sweetened it with maple syrup instead of chocolate as Clotilde suggests. It’s marvelous. Even though I don’t have a super palate and can’t distinguish the syrup, the sugar is a must to tease out the complex layers of fruity wine, earthy carrots and sweet onions (and Ruth Reichl gives additional tips on how to bring your stew to the next level).

As a side dish, I bought baby potatoes (Purple! Potatoes!) and used David Tanis’s recipe for an alternative to roasting them. Coating them in olive oil, sea salt, and a slurry of herbs, you wrap them up in parchment paper and steam in the oven to allow those simple flavours to meld and infuse. It’s so good it’s ridiculous. Although the purple potatoes are surprisingly bland and drier compared to the red skinned variety, I still love their color and they make a beautiful accompaniment to the boeuf bourguinon. In fact, I can’t get enough of them.

As with most stews, this bourguinon tastes even better with age. They made delicious leftovers the following day, I didn’t even offer my coworkers to sample a taste, I hoarded it all to myself (and that’s saying a lot since I often share). Just don’t be like me and screw up the wine opening ceremony, unless cork-stabbing is your favorite thing to do.

Boeuf Bourguinon
Reprinted with permission from Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

I’m not a wine connoisseur, not even close, but I bought a decent pinor noir from Burgundy (it was so good I bought a second bottle so I could enjoy it with my dinner), the better the wine, the better the dish-- it makes a world of a difference in the bourguinon. To sweeten the stew, I used maple syrup, but you can use chocolate, brown sugar, or even caramel instead. 

Serves 6 as a main course 

1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 medium shallots, minced
3 medium carrots, cut in ½-inch slices
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh type or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ cup (packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3½ pounds well-trimmed boneless beef chuck, cut in 2-inch cubes
1 bottle (3 cups) medium-bodied dry red wine, preferably from Burgundy (Mercurey, Côte de Nuits, Passetoutgrain), or a good Pinot Noir from California
6 ounces thickly sliced uncooked bacon, cut into ½-inch strips
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons maple syrup or 1½ ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into bits

1. Start the marinade 12 hours or up to a day in advance. Combine the onion, shallots, carrots, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves in a large mixing bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper, add the olive oil, and toss to coat. Add the beef and toss again. Pour in the wine, cover with plastic wrap, and refridgerate for 12 hours, or up to a day. 

2. When you are ready to cook the stew, pour the marinade, meat and vegetables through a colander into a second large bowl, to save the liquids and solids separately. Remove the meat from the colander (it doesn't matter if a few bits stick to the meat), and set aside on a plate.

3. Set a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the bacon, and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. If there is more than 2 tablepsoons of bacon drippings in the pan, pour out the excess fat.

4. Add the marinated vegetables and cook for 5 minutes, until softened, stirring regularly. Remove the vegetables from the pan and return to the bowl. 

5. Working in two batches, place the meat in a single layer in the pan without crowding and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. When the second batch is done, return the first batch to the pot, sprinkle with flour, and toss until no white trace of flour remains. Add the vegetables, pour in the reserved marinade, and stir. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for 3 hours. About 1 hour into the cooking, add the syrup (or chocolate) and reserved bacon. 

6. Remove the lid, turn the heat to a medium-high, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring regularly, until the sauce is thick enough to cling to the meat. Transfer to a serving dish or serve straight from the pot, with small steamed potatoes or pasta (fish out the bay leaves ebfore serving, or simply tell your dining companions to not eat them). A bit of bread is also welcome to mop up the sauce.

Steamed Baby Potatoes in Parchment 
Adapted from David Tanis of the New York Times

David Tanis raves about using new potatoes, I used small or baby potatoes since they are easier to find in my grocery store. I also quartered the potatoes to speed up the cooking time, but you may leave them whole, it’s up to you. I also didn’t use a whole head of garlic, I skipped it entirely, since I wanted the boeuf bourguinon to be the star of the show, but don’t let me stop you.
2 pounds small or baby potatoes, each 1½ to 2 inches in diameter
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 rosemary sprig
A few thyme sprigs
1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Wash the potatoes in warm water to remove dirt or sand, then drain and blot, cut the potatoes in quarters and put them in large mixing bowl. Add the olive oil, a generous amount of salt and pepper, the rosemary, thyme, sage, and garlic cloves (if using), and mix to coat.

2. Arrange potatoes on an 18-inch round of baking parchment. Fold the parchment over to make a half moon, then fold and crimp the rounded edge to make a package, tucking in the end. Don’t worry if the package is not completely airtight. Place it on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes. Parchment will puff and brown as the potatoes roast within. 

3. Remove potatoes from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Open the package and sprinkle with parsley. Serve directly from the parchment, with a large spoon for the delicious oily juices.

Recipe here!

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