Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cooking Floyd: Dark Days Challenge: Jan. Week 8

Oh! Julia!

I've had a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in my cookbook library since I moved out of my parents' house in 1975 but I never made Julia Child's classic Boeuf Bourguignon until yesterday.  Why did I wait so long?

Truth be told, I still haven't made Julia's classic dish.  I used venison instead of beef and instead of fresh mushrooms, which wouldn't have been local anyway, I used the last of the dried chicken of the woods mushrooms that Jagger foraged late last September.

You'll need a dutch oven or other deep oven proof casserole, pot or pan.
First I set the oven to preheat to 450F.  I started the recipe out with the dried mushrooms since they were going to need rehydrating.  I put them in a bowl and covered them with boiling water, then allowed them to soak until I needed them.

Next I snipped four thick slices of bacon into lardons and sauteed them in olive oil until they were lightly brown.  Lardons are little rectangles of bacon about 1/4" wide.  Julia's recipe calls for the bacon to be simmered in water, drained and dried before frying.  This step removes some of the salt but the bacon I used didn't have nearly the strong cure that the bacon Julia was accustomed to using had.  I went straight to the saute.  It seems redundant to me to saute bacon in olive oil but this is a technique I've seen elsewhere as well, so I did it.

When the bacon was golden I removed it to a paper towel and sauteed the venison in the bacon fat.  Julia  had me dry the venison cubes before sauteing and frying a few at a time in order to achieve good caramelization on the meat.  It's a pain but she's right.  The meat does brown nicely and it may actually be faster working in small batches.

As each batch of venison finished I moved it to a bowl.  In the fat that was left I browned a thin sliced carrot and a thin sliced onion.

When these had browned a bit the next step was to remove the veg and pour away any remaining fat from the pan.  Then all the veg, venison and bacon was returned to the pan, sprinkled with salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of flour, and tossed to coat.  Into the oven for 8 minutes, tossing the meat and veg once halfway through.  This browns a nice crust on everything.  I removed the pan and turned the oven down to 325F.

At this point my mushrooms had rehydrated and I removed them to paper towels to drain, reserving the now golden water they had soaked in.  There's a lot of flavor in that water and I wanted to add some of it to the recipe.  I cut the mushrooms into roughly inch squares.  Typical white mushrooms would be quartered.

Back to the casserole.  I stirred in 2 cups of a hearty table burgundy, 2 cups of venison stock, and enough of the mushroom water so that the meat was just covered in liquid.  To that I added 4 smashed cloves of our own grown garlic, 2 tablespoons of my homemade tomato paste (resisting the urge to break out a slice of bread and spread the remainder on it), and half a bay leaf from our little bay tree.  Julia calls for 1/2 teaspoon of thyme.  I didn't feel like trudging through the mud to the herb garden for fresh.  I thought I had thyme paste in the freezer but I didn't.  So I used a chunk of Fines Herbs paste I'd put up in the summer.  That's French, right?  Good enough. (Go here for herb paste technique)

All these things were stirred together and brought to a simmer on top of the stove.  Then I clapped the lid on it and put the pot in the 325F oven for 3 hours.  I think if you're a crock pot kinda cook, this is where you'd put it in the slow cooker on low.

After an hour I took a peek and the casserole was bubbling pretty fast so I turned the oven down to 300F.  Julia wants the meat to simmer slowly. 

While the casserole was in the oven, I cubed a large onion into half inch squares.  Julia wants pearl onions used here.  Didn't have any and wasn't about to buy them so I subbed in a local onion.  I did add baby onions to next year's things to preserve list.  I can prep and freeze small early onions for this use.  Plus they'd be nice to add to our mixed roasted winter veg.
Anyway, the cubed onion got sauteed in a mix of butter and olive oil and when browned was braised in a half cup of venison stock for a half hour with a sprig of cutting celery and the other half of the bay leaf.  When the onions were done and removed, the mushrooms were sauteed in the same pan with butter and olive oil until lightly browned.  These were set aside until the casserole was ready.

When the meat is fork tender Julia advises pouring the contents of the casserole into a colander set into a pot to catch the juices, then returning the meat and veg back into the casserole and distributing the mushrooms and braised onions over the top.  She says to simmer the sauce for a minute or two, skimming off any fat that rises and adjusting the thickness of the sauce by adding stock if too thick, or reducing by boiling if too thin, then pouring the finished sauce over the meat and the vegetables.  I found the sauce in the casserole to be just about perfect without the trouble of this step which I attribute to the natural leanness of the venison.  I know when to leave well enough alone.  Mostly.  So I added the onions and mushrooms and gently turned them into the meat and sauce.

The Bourguignon can be completed in advance to this point, cooled and refrigerated.  To reheat, bring to a gentle simmer on the stove for 10-15 minutes, basting occasionally with the sauce.

I pulled the casserole from the oven after 3 hours and set it on the stovetop while I prepared oven roasted North Carolina potatoes for the side.  Chunks of potato slathered with olive oil, wild garlic dust, salt and pepper, and roasted at 450F for about 45 minutes or until the cut edges turn brown and the potatoes poke tender.  A salad of local greens and we were set.

I can't believe I never made this before!  It was dangerously good!  Go back for more and waddle away good!  Yep, there's a lot of steps to prepare it but Oh! Julia! it's good!


  1. Venison Bourguignon sounds absolutely heavenly--especially with the chicken of the woods mushrooms (my favorite)!

    1. I applaud your dedication to the eating local/dark days challenge!

      Like you, I had Julia's cookbooks forever before I used them much. Everything I've tried (including the Boeuf Bourguignon) has been fantastic. Now to try it with venison!

  2. OH MAN! Wow does that look good. And using all your local foods to boot! Congrats. Well done! I am drooling! completely drooling.

    still can't comment with wordpress. grr

  3. I've been wanting to make this with venison. Glad to know it's a success. And, by the way, I've never made anything out of Mastering the Art of French cooking, but I do look through it and I love just having it nearby.