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What Would Julia Do?


“One of the most delicious dishes concocted by man.” That’s how Julia Child describes Boeuf Bourgnignon in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I whole-heartedly agree. That’s why the sight of Julie Pearson’s incinerated version in Julie and Julia” was so distressing.  There was only one way to get past that bad memory. I had to make it myself.

 

 

A dozen students joined me recently in the kitchen of Chicago’s Alliance Francaise with just that goal in mind.  Some of us were tackling the recipe for the first time.  Others, myself included, had cooked our way through Julia’s book some forty years ago.  I was eager to see how well the recipe would hold up in this age of ‘twitter’.

 

We dutifully began our stew by blanching salt pork pieces in water.  This ingredient has been all but abandoned in our fat-phobic country. A persistent shopper will find it in supermarket meat cases sold in half-pound packages.  Just a whiff of smoked bacon and lard is essential to the comforting flavor of long-simmered traditional stews throughout Europe.  It’s a step worth keeping.

 

Browned meat cubes soon joined the pork pieces in the bottom of a large casserole. The class balked, however, at the next step: sprinkling the meat with flour and toasting it in 475 degree oven. Julia may have adopted a practice she learned at the Cordon Bleu where there’s a hot oven ‘at the ready’. The class was confident that we could thickening the stew later, using a more home-friendly method from Julia’s book.

 

Continuing on, we gleefully poured an entire bottle of burgundy over the seared beef. At that point, we hit another ‘speed bump’ ingredient.  Julia’s recipe asks for a pint of beef broth to cover the meat completely. She intended for us to have spent a day preparing her recipe for beef stock. Not any more.. It’s been some years since I have had homemade brown stock in the freezer.  However, I’m not a fan of canned stock.  Instead we used veal demi-glace made in kitchen of (Le Vichyssois restaurant by chef Bernard Cretier. (If your interested in purchasing some, here’s the link: (http://www.levichyssois.com/demiglace.htm).  Julia would have approved.

 

After a two hour-long simmer, we added sautéed mushrooms and simmered pearl onions to the tender meat.  Just before serving, the solids were skimmed from the stew and finished cooking whole wheat penne pasta in the reducing liquids.  No thickener was needed, just salt and pepper,  The beouf bourgnignon lived up to Julia’s description and gave us all a wonderful new memory to savor.