22 January 2012

Boeuf Alentejano

If you are looking for a quick weeknight meal, look away.

On the other hand, if you are snowed in for the day with a side of beef and feel like transforming yourself into a beloved wintertime kitchen god or goddess-- here you go.  Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon recipe, featuring a robust Portuguese wine and even more robust side of Portuguese beef.

This is a French dish, of course, and not Portuguese.  But when you use a whole bottle of good wine from the Alentejo region of Portugal in the savory sauce, surely that makes it just a bit of a Portuguese treat, too. (Albeit with wonderfully exacting French technique!)

The beef in this recipe is Portuguese as well.  How do I know?  Well, much like Lucy Ricardo or Alice the Brady's maid, when I want meat I head out to a butcher shop.

Just a few weeks ago, a new shop opened right next door, bringing with it a very friendly and talkative butcher.  Is he put off by the fact that I can only reply to him in my best-but-not-really-fluent Portuguese?

"That here looks good, I cook it today at night, I think.  I would like a sock kilo... uhhhh... I mean, a half kilo, thank you."

For whatever reason, he seems to find this a welcome challenge in his day, connecting with the crazy American lady.  When yesterday I walked in and asked for "one and a half kilos of meat of cow, cut on cubes", he was delighted to tell me that this beef was from a family farm that he has visited, and it is a very good quality.  And then he took a whole 10 minutes getting the batch perfectly free of gristle and cut to my specifications.

The meat, therefore, was perfect.  So the pressure was on for me to deliver excellently browned onions and mushrooms, just as Julia told me to in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Luckily, she is very talented at giving instructions, so the supporting players for this stew looked almost as good as the farm fresh meat and local wine.

I know there may be easier ways to get a delicious beef stew on the table, but I selfishly loved this whole long process.  From negotiating meat to picking out wine to cooking all parts of the stew separately before letting them mingle-- it was a perfect winter afternoon.  It felt cozy while I was doing it, and I lazed around in the warm kitchen with a glass of wine and a good audio book-- all while feeling productive.

But really, nothing could beat the rewards of ripping a piece a fresh crusty bread right off the loaf and dipping it into the stew for a late afternoon lunch.  If you are looking for a reminder of why it can be nice to slow down and enjoy a day of simple pleasures, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.  And if you see my butcher, tell him I sent you.

Boeuf Alentejano
serves 6
slightly adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

1/2 pound of bacon, in cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef in 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups of full-bodied red wine (from the Alentejo, to keep this recipe title)
2 to 3 cups beef stock or canned bouillon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
crumbled bay leaf
24 small brown braised onions (recipe below)
1 pound quartered sauteed mushrooms (recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 450F (220C).  In a large, fireproof casserole heat the oil over a moderate heat, and add the bacon pieces.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until browned.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and reheat until the oil and bacon grease is almost smoking.

2. Dry the beef in paper towels as well as possible; it will not brown if it is not dry.  Sauté it, a few pieces at a time in the hot oil and bacon fat until it is nicely browned on all sides but not cooked through.  As each batch finishes, remove to the side with the bacon.

3. After the beef is all sautéed, brown the sliced carrots and onions in the same fat until they are just barely softened.  (Add more cooking oil if needed.)

4. Return the beef and bacon to the vegetables in the large casserole.  Toss everything with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the mixture with the flour, tossing again to coat the beef lightly with it. Put the casserole uncovered in the bottom third of the preheated oven.  Let it cook for four minutes, remove and toss the contents, then return to the oven for four more minutes. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust-- do not skip this step, it is fussy but it makes a big difference!)

5. Put the casserole back on the stovetop burner and turn the oven down to 350F (175C).  Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so the meat mixture is barely covered.  Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs.  Bring everything to a simmer on the stove.  Then, cover the casserole and set back in the lower third of the oven, regulating the heat so the liquid simmers slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

6. While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms and set aside until needed. (Recipes below)

7. When the stew is done, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over  saucepan.  Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it.  Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

8. Take the saucepan with the sauce in it, and skim off the fat as best you can.  Simmer the sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises.  In the end, you should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.  If too thin, boil down quickly.  If too thick, mix in a few more tablespoons of stock.  Taste for seasoning and then pour the sauce back into the casserole over the meat and vegetables.

9. Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables several times.  Serve the stew in its casserole, over boiled potatoes, noodles, rice-- or with a big hunk of crusty bread for dipping.

Brown Braised Onions
24 peeled white pearl onions (you can use frozen to save time, but don't use pickled)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup beef bouillon
salt and pepper to taste
bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon thyme

1. In a 9-10 inch skillet with a lid, heat the butter and oil over a medium heat.  Once the butter has stopped foaming, add the onions and sauté for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions so they will brown as evenly as possible.  Try not to break the skins.

2. Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herbs.  Cover and simmer slowly over a low heat for 40 to 50 minutes, until the onions are perfectly tender but still retain their shape. Most of the liquid will have evaporated.

Sautéed Mushrooms
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of oil
1 pound of fresh mushrooms, washed, dried, and quartered

1. Place a large skillet over a high heat with the butter and the oil.  As soon as the butter foam subsides, add the mushrooms.  Toss around the mushrooms for 4 to 5 minutes.  During their sauté, the mushrooms will absorb the fat, then the fat will reappear and the mushrooms will brown (after about 3 minutes). As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from the heat.

No comments:

Post a Comment