The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourgignon

March 3rd, 2014 · No Comments · Posted in Recipes


My 14-year-old daughter’s new favorite movie is Julie and Julia, the story of a food blogger who channels Julia Child and takes a year to make every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Inspired, we spent the better part of the afternoon yesterday turning a shoulder roast from the local supermarket into Boeuf Bourgignon.

In typical French fashion, this dish makes what is essentially beef stew into a culinary quest involving numerous steps. But that’s fairly typical of Julia Child’s recipes: you have to read them through a dozen times before you even start slicing that first onion. Ingredients are cooked together, then separated. They simmer in one pot, before they are moved to another. Some elements cook four hours, others only a few minutes. You need a traffic cop to keep it all straight.

I wish I could say we made our Boeuf Bourgignon bending over an original copy of Mastering the Art. We do own a copy, but it’s buried in a box somewhere deep in our basement, along with the rest of the food library we hauled from D.C. in the move to Upstate New York. Instead, I relied on a copy posted on the ABC television network’s website after they interviewed Julie Powell, the aspiring writer whose blogging was turned into a Nora Ephron movie. So I can’t say my observations pertain to Julia Child’s instructions or someone else’s modifications. And I won’t be reprinting the recipe here: You can easily find it by searching the internet.

Mainly, I have an issue with the oven temperature and the cooking time. The recipe calls for cooking “lean beef” for “three to four hours” in a 325-degree oven. In my world, that’s a recipe for overcooked meat. Consequently, after a couple of hours I turned the oven down to 250. There’s a reason “low and slow” is the best approach with braises. I only wish I had followed my instincts when I first put the pot in the oven.

Secondly, the recipe suggests cutting the stew meat into “2-inch chunks.” Get out your ruler and I think you’ll agree this is more than a mouthful. Did Julia intend for the beef to be bite-size, or are you supposed to cut it with a knife after it’s served? I cut the meat a bit smaller–more like a stew–but now I wish I’d followed the instructions because the finished meat might have been less dry had the pieces been larger.

Otherwise, the final result is truly delicious, beef, browned mushrooms and vegetables bathed in a sublime sauce of red wine, stock, garlic and herbs. Near the end you will be instructed to pass the stew through a sieve so that you can collect all the juices and reduce them as needed to make the final sauce. Don’t be afraid to leave the liquid over the flame until you get exactly what you want: a sauce that coats the back of the spoon.

You will be so proud of yourself when you spread the finished stew in a casserole and lovingly pour on the sauce. The beef and mushrooms glisten tantalizingly. To present the dish at the table, garnish with plenty of chopped parsley. Then dig in.

Bon appetit!

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