Like many others, I grew up in the culinary world idolizing Julia Child. I would watch her cooking show every Saturday, not just for the techniques, but to hear her talk about the food and the food culture in her beloved France.
I'd imagine the smell of boulangeries early in the morning, as they pulled the hot baguettes out of the oven. I could almost taste the butter in the flaky croissants and feel the lighter-than-air Grand Marnier soufflé dissolve on my tongue.
So, when I had a chance to travel to Paris recently, I had a bucket list of dishes I wanted to experience. While the list was long, the dish that was at the top was perhaps the one Julia is best known for, beef (or boeuf) bourguignon.
This red wine and beef stew from the Burgundy region of France (hence its American name of beef Burgundy) can be found on most classic Paris bistro menus this time of year, and with good reason. Nothing is better to warm up a cold fall night. Not surprisingly, when I got back to the Twin Cities, the nights were also chilly, so I set out to make this iconic dish in my own not-so-French kitchen.
If you've ever made beef stew, you'll be right at home with this dish, and while it's easy to make, there are a couple of important details to keep in mind.
First, deeply browning the beef is essential. And while it may be tempting to speed up the process by tossing all the beef into the pot at the same time, don't. Crowding the pan doesn't allow enough space for the evaporation of the liquid coming off the meat. The result is gray, flavorless meat that's essentially been boiled in its own juices. What you are look for are mahogany-colored cubes of beef that impart loads of flavor into your stew.
While we're talking about the meat, choose a whole chuck roast that you cut up yourself. This will allow you to cut the cubes into a uniform size, instead of the variety of shapes and sizes you'll get in a package of stew meat at the grocery store. I like to keep my pieces of beef on the large size, around 2 inches. If you cut the meat too small, it can get a little dry in the low and slow cooking process.
Now let's talk about the star of the show — the wine. As Julia would say, "I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food." In this case, you'll be adding a full bottle of red wine. While it would make no sense to break the bank on a bottle you won't even get a glass to drink while you cook, it does make sense to get a wine you'd like to drink. You could certainly use a wine from Burgundy, but you don't have to; any drinkable, dry red wine will do.
I like to serve my beef bourguignon with creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, but I'm sure Julia wouldn't mind if you served it over buttered egg noodles or even spaetzle. Bon appétit!
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.