"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Boeuf bourguignon: a meaty love story

I can't believe I haven't talked yet (at length) about my Christmas gift from Jeremy, love of my life and chopper of my vegetables. This year it wasn't fancy gems or an entire season of Ugly Betty on DVD, fantastic gifts in their own right that I've gotten in the past, but instead it was a new baby for the kitchen: a 5-quart oval dutch oven pot from Le Creuset, in beautiful, wonderful Sonoma Green. Behold the glory!

Squee! I love love LOVE my new pot! It is beautiful! It is spacious! It is cast iron coated in porcelain enamel! It weighs 9 pounds, more than the average newborn infant! Pinch me, I'm in love. Sigh.

Since I first became seriously interested in home cooking, I have wanted a Le Creuset dutch oven. Yes, I know that Le Creuset is sort of a status piece of cookware, but for a reason. This baby will outlive me. I will have this pot until I die. And this makes me happy. I could get a lower-priced dutch oven, but none would have made me as happy as this one. Doesn't a lady deserve a little happiness every now and then? (Correct answer: yes.)

Jeremy and I went to pick it out at Williams-Sonoma right after the holidays. Yes, I know that Williams-Sonoma is a purveyor of all things evilly overpriced ($24! For a spatula!), but they also happen to carry a wide range of Le Creuset products AND they also happen to be the only ones who carry the beautiful Sonoma Green color pictured above, which I just had to have. Doesn't that color just make you happy? Doesn't it just conjure up all that is bountiful and healthy and life-sustaining?

I'm getting carried away. Love will do that to a girl, you know.

Anyway, we picked out our new baby at the store and were congratulated—congratulated!—not once but TWICE by employees in the store on our purchase. I felt like we were entering some sort of secret, exclusive club of real, serious cooks. It felt very glamorous, in a weird, cookery kind of way.

"What are you going to make in it first?" the saleslady asked as she rang up our purchase.

I leaned across the counter conspiratorially. "Boeuf bourguignon," I said.

She smiled. "Julia Child's recipe?"


"You've got the book and everything?"

"I do," I replied.

"Enjoy," she said, with another big smile, and handed me the bag, which proceeded to drag me nearly halfway to the floor when I took it off the counter, so I made Jeremy carry it. (Seriously, if I make a stew a night in this thing, I could get seriously BUFF upper arms just lifting it in and out of the oven.)

I knew just how long it takes to properly make a Julia Child boeuf bourguignon, having read the recipe before, but dammit, I waited a long time for this new pot, and by God I was going to use it immediately. So around 5:30 on a Saturday, I assembled my ingredients and began.

This is not a tactic I recommend to anyone. A momentary lapse in sanity is what I chalk it up to. Over-excitement. A new love going to my head. Because we didn't end up actually getting to EAT boeuf bourguignon until about 11:00 that night.

How long can it REALLY take to make a beef stew? A beef stew when you follow Julia Child's recipe down to the letter? Do you know how long it takes to pat dry three pounds of top-notch chuck beef, when the beef is already beautifully cut into small cubes? Do you know how many paper towels it takes? Do you know how much patience you need to cut up a half-pound of bacon into lardons? Do you even know what a lardon is? (For your information, it is a matchstick-size piece of meat.)

Did you know that before you begin, you must blanch the bacon so that nothing is too overwhelmingly bacony? Does this feel slightly wrong to you, but you do it anyway, because you trust Julia implicitly? Do you know how glorious it is to render the fat out of something in a pot that has nice, high walls that prevent said fat from splattering all over you? Do you know the pleasant surprise of realizing that the patting dry really does let the meat brown more quickly in the fat? Do you know how many batches you must brown the meat in, because 3 pounds is a lot of meat, and you shouldn't crowd the pan?

Have you ever had to toss three pounds of meat with flour? Do you know what a pain in the ass that is? Do you know what a difference it makes? Have your eyes ever grown wide with delight while pouring an entire bottle (!) of burgundy wine into a pot with stock to make a sauce? Have you known the terror that comes with nearly dropping a 9-pound pot brimming with 3 pounds of meat, half a pound of bacon, half a pound of carrots and onions, and an entire bottle of wine? Because with all that in it, it no longer weighs just 9 pounds. How relieved are you when you remember that your beau can do this for you, because that's what muscled men are for?

While unbelievable smells waft around your kitchen and drive you half-wild with impatient desire, something (insanity, perhaps?) has compelled you to continue making more accompaniments to go with your stew, so you soldier on. Have you ever peeled 24 tiny white onions, one at a time, to roll around in a pan of butter and then braise in broth? Have you ever made an herb bouquet? At 9:00 at night? Have you ever sauteed a pound of mushrooms in yet more butter, even though you know your partner dislikes mushrooms and you know you will be eating them all alone? Has this thought made you secretly happy because it means you get the buttery, soft, glorious mushrooms all to yourself? Have you checked on the meat several times and each time judged that it's just not fork-tender enough, even though you want to gnaw off an arm in hunger and your beau has taken to napping in his ravenous frustration? Have you run out of paper towels yet?

Have you periodically been dragging your back-aching, sore-footed body over to the sink to wash dishes so you're not stuck washing dishes all night? Does this still prevent you from scrubbing dishes after midnight? No. And how is everything in sight covered in a greasy, buttery, fatty film? Where did those paper towels go?

When you finally, finally remove the pot from the oven, deeming the meat soft enough to eat, do you realize, after spooning out the meat and vegetables from the pot, that you will need to defat the sauce? And after you do realize this, why don't you remember that you bought a fat separator for this specific purpose until after you start defatting the sauce using a spoon? Aren't you too tired to give a shit if you serve yourself and your beau fatty sauce? Sort of, but not totally. Not defatting the sauce would be giving up. Not defatting the sauce would be failing Julia, and failing my beautiful new pot, and failing myself. So into the separator it goes.

How amazing is a fat separator? How the holy hell did people get by without these things? How much fat can one really pour out into an old glass sauce jar kept expressly for the purpose of disposing of leftover fat? (Answer: a frighteningly large amount.)

How delicious is this dinner, albeit served at 11:00 p.m. when both of you are almost past the point of caring? How worthwhile was it to braise those two dozen tiny onions? How pleased are you to eat your beau's discarded mushrooms? How horrified are you to find that there is a thick layer of brown, greasy gunk coating the inside of your new pot and its lid? How amazed and pleased and food-coma-stupefied-thrilled are you that said grease wipes right off your new pot? Once the dishes are cleaned and the leftovers are put away, how pleased are you with yourself? How long has your beau been passed out in a beef-induced semi-comatose state?

Where does your pot live? Not in a cabinet under the sink, or crammed into the pantry, but on top of the stove, where you see it every time you walk into the kitchen. Where you loving run a hand along the lid every time you pass it on your way to the pantry or recycling bin. Where it stands as a constant reminder of your love, for the kitchen and for your partner for understanding your love of the kitchen and for never getting between the two of you, and for always eating what you offer him, no matter what time it is or how insane he might think you are for doing things the way you do. Where it can remind you that you are confident, and capable, and good at and passionate about something on the days when you are most feeling frustrated with your life and yourself and your achievements, or seeming lack thereof.

Congratulations. You have now cooked your way through your first—and last? No, certainly not last—Julia Child boeuf bourguignon.

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