Whisper down the lane. At least that’s what we used to call it in England. You know, that childhood game where you whisper a phrase to your friend who whispers it to the next person in line, and, at the end of the queue, the last person shouts out what they heard and it bears no resemblance to the initial phrase?
For some reason, I always found it endlessly amusing at slumber parties, which is perhaps why this recipe is both amusing to me and perfectly appropriate for today.
A hearty pot of Boeuf Bourguignon will be accompanying me shortly to a “girl’s weekend” with some dear pals at a dairy farm in the wilds of central Virginia. There we’ll be fireside chatting, knitting, reading and, if I’m not mistaken, laughing up a storm. Perhaps storm may turn out to be the operative word, in fact, though “bunk activities” as they used to call it at summer camp, might be just what the doctor ordered as far as giving us all a great break from this beastly winter.
One thing we’ll be feasting upon will be this Boeuf Bourguigon, and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t turn out to be a hit. The recipe I used, and that I provide here, is marvelous and perhaps one of my most beloved. I used to slave my way through Julia Child’ s Boeuf Bourguignon upon occasion , but an occasion it always had to be. It was a production indeed which meant the sapid stew could never be in the rotation of daily and delicious, but always only for a special dinner party or other ritzy hoop-de-do.
In August of 2009, I stumbled over a new version of the classic dish in a New York Times article by Julia Moskin, who, excitingly will be appearing at the Woman’s Club here in Richmond, later this month. Julia Moskin’s recipe was an adaptation of Ginette Mathiot’s in “Je Sais Cuisiner” (“I know how to Cook”) circa 1932. This is perhaps–dare I say it–a more authentic take on the famous stew as it gets back to the very roots of what it was meant to be: a wonderful, everyday possible, traditional French housewife’s version.
That’s not to say it isn’t sublime, because indeed it is. In fact, it’s so good, I’ve been known to serve this version at formal dinners where, believe me, no one seemed to think it wasn’t black tie appropriate. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner a deux next week. Please, don’t let on how easy it was–just revel in the praise that’s going to be heaped upon you, and the romance it’s bound to engender.
So, the whispering continues. I have very slightly adapted the recipe again from Julia Moskin’s version. It may be somewhat different than Madame Mathiot’s version, but I think it would be recognizable to any 20th century French housewife nonetheless.
As for this weekend, perhaps I should throw the Scrabble board into my trunk, just to be on the safe side. It occurs to me that whisper down the lane might not cut it anymore–outside of the kitchen, that is.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces of shallots, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound of thick-cut center bacon, diced
3 pounds of stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch dice and patted dry
1/2 cup flour
2 cups of beef stock
2 cups of red wine ( I use Pinot Noir if I can’t find a Burgundy)
1 bouquet garni ( 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh thyme and 6 sprigs of parsley tied together)
Black pepper and salt
1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced
Put oil n a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the onions and bacon and cook, stirring until browned. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.
Add beef and brown on all sides , working in batches as necessary to avoid crowding.
Return all of the beef to the pan and sprinkle with the flour. Stir until browned and add the stock. Stir, scrapping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all of the crunchy bits, and then add the reserved bacon and onions, the wine and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer very gently for two hours.
Add the mushrooms and cook for half an hour more. Serve immediately, OR even better, refrigerate and reheat the next day when it’s even more delectable.
–Adapted from Julia Moskin in the New York Times, who adapted it from Ginette Mathiot’s” I Know How to Cook”, Phaidon Press