Two Sundays ago, we had a small birthday celebration for V. Just family and some friends. On the morning itself I woke up in a bit of a panic,counting off all the tasks still left undone- including making fish fingers from scratch- and for a minute, I did regret not calling in the caterers. Too late for that though, and at least we had a big pot of boeuf bourguignon sitting in the fridge. Which I had cooked with husband, the day before.
Actually, boeuf bourguignon has always been husband's specialty dish, he makes it about 3-4 times a year or for parties, and it is about the only beef dish we eat at home. He uses a recipe from a thick book with yellowing pages. I had never made boeuf bourguignon from this recipe before, so was curious to see it. First printed in 1976, the recipe pages are preceded by sections on seasonal produce, refridgeration, nutritional information and pictures of cows and lambs with the relevant cuts of meats. Recipes are charmingly old fashioned and surprisingly brief yet instructive, with cute icons to indicate if they are economical or expensive, easy or hard, and even if they are suitable for parties, prep and cooking time, plus caloric count. Caloric counts were big in the eighties, seem so quaint now.
Boeuf bourguigon comes in at 740 calories, I believe this is equivalent to a plate of char kway teow. The reason became clear when I read the ingredient list. 200g of lard and 100g of butter to 1.6kg of beef! I always have butter in the freezer but no way was I using so much of my precious stash, and in the end we got away with using a good glug of canola oil and about 30g of butter for 3 kgs of beef (combination of stewing beef and shin, from Huber's Butchery). He pinched half the bacon that I bought for another dish I was making, forcing me to supplement that dish with ham.. but that is another story.
Other ingredients were small onions, carrots, and mushrooms. We were supposed to make a bouquet garni of mixed herbs, but I only put in the thyme during the cooking and sprinkled chopped parsley just before serving. The beef was marinated in a whole bottle of good red wine; the author recommended adding the carrots and onions into the bowl as well, but I decided against it as I didn't see the point.
First thing to do was to brown the bacon and render the fat out in the mixture of oil and butter. The crisped bacon pieces were scooped out, and then each piece of meat was seared individually. There was a crazy amount of oil spitting and spluttering since the meat was scooped out from the wine bath before touching hot fat, so I wore gloves to do the job.
The onions were next, they got tossed in the fat briefly while I scraped the bottom of the pot of as much of the fond (browned bits) as possible. The beef went back into the pot, and was sprinkled with 4 tablespoons of flour (recipe called for 8, but we preferred a thinner gravy) then we poured the wine plus enough water to cover most of the meat, and the bunch of thyme jammed into the middle of the pot. Brought to boil, then lowered heat and simmered for 3-4 hours on low heat. Carrots in for another 45 mins, followed by mushrooms for 30 mins. At this stage it can be served, we kept it overnight which improved the flavour further.
There is no picture of the finished dish as I was too busy and distracted. Everyone loved it, even the leftovers were packed as takeaway for someone's supper. The meat was tender, the vegetables still whole and succulent, and the gravy very flavourful without being greasy. All in, a reliable crowd-pleaser in any cook's repertoire.The French would serve it with boiled potatoes or tagliatelle pasta, but Asian palates would prefer to accompany with some steamed white rice.