Thursday, January 12, 2012

I’ve perfected my Beef Bourgogne!!!

I’m still dreaming about my Christmas Day Beef Bourgogne I made in my little kitchen in Paris. It was so amazingly delicious that I made it again when I got home. At home, it was horrible! The second attempt was better, but not even close yet. A perfect beef Bourgogne, I’ve learned is about the quality of the ingredients as much as it is the recipe.

So I searched for the best ingredients I could find. I discovered the best beef from my local butcher, hung to perfection - it’s only $4.99 a pound, how can you not go for quality at that price! The second time I made it, it was much better than the first but simply not quite right yet. So learning from the beef, I went further.

The butcher in Paris recommended a bit of cheek in my Bourgogne and it was marvelous. So my local butcher got me cheek. Instead of regular, off the shelf flour, I had some stone ground all natural flour from Morningstar Mill in Thorold. I found little pearl onions at the market and went back to using regular white button mushrooms.

I’m not sure what the key ingredient was by OMG the Bourgogne was as spectacular as what I made in Paris! Perfecto! The sauce was sinfully rich, smooth as silk and elegantly full of flavour. The meat melted in hearty flavours while the little pearl onions creamed on the palate like silk. Aughhh, finally a dish to swoon over.

The entire experience reminded me of a time when a beautiful kitchen store graciously volunteered to make a dish out of my cookbook during my book signing. It was the Pesto Pan Chicken, a delicious and easy one skillet meal. When I arrived, they shared some concerns so I took a look. It looked so horrible I didn’t want to taste it. I suspected they added too much liquid because the entire dish was swimming. I saw no brown searing marks on the chicken either. Now I know that the chicken was injected with water that was released when cooked. The cook at the time didn’t know enough to drain the skillet of the chicken juices. You see, when you brown meat, it acquires delicious flavours, when you boil meat, it becomes bland and tough. When I made the recipe, I used chicken from the butcher so my recipe turned out very yummy.

So here’s my lesson for 2012. Buy the best ingredients you can from people who are experts in what they do. Second guess all recipe ingredients and make sure they’re the best you can buy. If you don’t, you're leaving yourself vulnerable. I'm raising my fork full of Bourgogne to toast the best quality Ontario ingredients!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Beef Bourgogne, a second attempt

Good food is worth great effort and that’s why I’m attempting Julia Child’s Beef Bourgogne twice in one week. I made it on Christmas Day in Paris with all the best ingredients I could find. It was so spectacular I just had to make it again when I was home. Unfortunately, the stewing beef I purchased at a grocery store was a disaster, but then you know that from my previous blog.

So I went to probably the best butcher in Niagara; Lakeshore Meats. Scott the butcher was sympathetic to my woes and explained why his meat will give me the results I wanted. He further ages the already aged beef, he buys from trusted sources and his meat is free from anything nasty you just wouldn’t want to eat. “Better quality meat will give you a better quality result,” he said.

So for exactly the same price ($4.99 a pound) I bought a pound of Lakeshore Meats stewing beef and a slab of pork belly. I wasn’t quite done yet, as I didn’t have the right sized pot nor did I have a sieve large enough to do the job easily.

I shopped some retail stores in Niagara but couldn’t really find what I needed. Then I remembered the restaurant supply store in Niagara Falls. I bought an exciting sieve and the perfect size Paderno pot (btw, restaurant supply stores are the perfect place to shop for everything you’ll ever need for your kitchen. There are 2 in Niagara, they’ll save you money and they’re delicious places to dig around in).

Equipped with the right tools and better quality ingredients, I made another Beef Bourgogne. I cut up the pork belly into what Julia calls Lardoons. In Paris, they sold lardoons; it was a package of pork belly already cut up.

I dried each piece of stewing meat with paper towels and got the pot to almost smoking hot. I dropped a few pieces of meat into the pot and they began to brown quickly. I turned them over and over making sure all sides were browned and like magic – no water appeared! I browned the entire pound of stewing beef with great success. Things were looking up!

Funny thing happened. I had far too much liquid so I removed 2 cups from the pot before it went into the oven. Perhaps I had more than a pound of stewing beef last time (?), hmmmm. I kept it aside just in case I needed it later. The stew simmered in the oven for 3 hours and I finished it off just as Julia wanted without the need for more sauce.

The result was amazing! The meat was tender and luscious! The meat in the previous attempt fell apart with a bit of fork pressure but I wouldn’t say it was tender because it was still stringy and the strings were chewy. This beef was actually tender, juicy and had more flavour – ok, so better ingredients make a world of difference.

What I couldn’t do was to get the sauce as velvety and luscious as my sauce in Paris. Perhaps it’s the flour. Augh, why did I leave the rest of the flour in the apartment in Paris?

While at Lakeshore Meats I asked Scott about adding cheek to Beef Bourgogne and he agreed, a bit of beef cheek make a huge difference in stews – so why is this a butchers secret! No one in Niagara carries cheek, but he was nice enough to order some for me. Yea, you guessed it, a third attempt at Julia’s Beef Bourgogne is just a week away – stay tuned. I’ll get this right yet!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Julia Child's Beef Bourgogne

Time in Paris was magical. My most memorable times were shopping for our Christmas tree, Christmas Eve midnight mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, our walk back to the apartment along the Seine and Christmas day dinner – I made Beef Bourgogne from Julia Childs cookbook.

I have to say that Julia Child was not afraid of spending too much time in the kitchen. By the time I managed to do all the steps she recommended, dinner was on the table by 8 pm (I started at 10 that morning!). Of course, it always takes longer to make a dish the first time, that’s why I had to make it again.

We’re now back home in Niagara and deep into the madness that is our daily lives. I picked up some stewing beef (and braising ribs - I can't resist, they're delicious!) and the rest of the ingredients at the supermarket and set to work. After I’d finished with the bacon, I began to dry the beef. I set a piece in the hot oil and it began to spit and sputter as it should. I put in another piece, another and another. Soon I had 8 pieces of stewing beef in the skillet when I noticed there was a lot more liquid in the skillet than I’d started with.

My meat was not browning, it was now boiling. I removed the beef and dried it one more time, pressing down firmly to catch the liquid that was now oozing from each piece. I drained the skillet and returned the meat. It began to brown quickly. Good, dry beef, I’ve discovered, browns in seconds.

I did have to wipe out the skillet after I’d browned the 8 pieces because a bit more water came out, but not enough to warrant another drying. I continued to dry the beef, sear it, remove it, dry it again and finish the browning process – some pieces had to be dried 3 times, but most only 2.

So why is it that our Canadian beef has so much water in it? Is it injected to add weight as one customer claimed? Is it not aged long enough? Is it the type of cattle? I don’t know the answer to this but I will soon.

The meal was absolutely delicious! It was far from the rich, velvety, smooth, beefy, ambrosia meal I’d made in Paris with my French ingredients, but it was still very good. The difference was that of a fine, aged red wine at its peak of perfection compared to a quaffable house wine – both are good, but still noticeably different.

We enjoyed our Beef Bourgogne, the meat was more than fork tender – it succumbed to pressure so easily and readily, but interestingly, the tiny little juicy shreds of beef that fell apart were noticeably chewy; a bit unlike the sweet, velvety tender texture of the Parisian meat.

Julia Child’s Beef Bourgogne is so spectacular, so delicious, so amazing that I think everyone should experience it at least once in their lifetime. I would delightfully spend hours in the kitchen if my food tasted this good every time! Besides the seductive flavours, it’s been a lesson in quality of ingredients, and I’m learning about judging quality. This week I’ll make her Beef Bourgogne again, but I’ll go to a butcher shop and chat with him about the beef before I buy. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what he says.