Cook Off! I Compared Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon to a French Grandmother’s
Beef bourguignon — the French people’s excuse to introduce wine into every dinner. It’s true! I know, I’m married to one. But besides being an excuse to indulge in a glass of Pinot Noir, beef bourguignon is an emblematic French dish and one that is enjoyed worldwide. This lovely wintertime stew filled with beef, mushrooms, carrots, and onions is so filling and delicious that it may put all other slow cooker beef recipes to shame.
For years, I’ve heard that Julia Child’s recipe for this dish is not only a classic but the best one that you could possibly make. However, as someone who had access to a true French family recipe, it was difficult for me to believe that there could be anything better. I mean, when is Grandma’s recipe not the best? Eventually though, my curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t resist taking on the challenge of trying Child’s recipe for myself. I figured that, worst case scenario, I could at least celebrate my attempt at conquering this notoriously difficult recipe with a dinner party.
I alerted my partner to the idea who then promptly suggested that we have a taste test to formally determine which recipe was the best. The judges were naturally our friends. We prepared for the contest late one Wednesday night. It was my task to tackle Julia Child’s recipe. I did so by clinging to the extraordinarily specific, step-by-step recipe directions.
To start, I stood in front of the stove and slowly peeled 24 pearl onions per Child’s instructions and delicately set them aside — those little onions are so easy to damage! Then I peeled and chopped an army of carrots, onions, and mushrooms to wait their turn to be sautéed. The beef I lovingly blotted dry so that it would brown as evenly as possible.
Once everything was mise en place, I got to work. Slowly I browned handfuls of beef until all three pounds were properly scorched and set aside. Next, I deglazed the pan with some beef broth and caramelized the chopped onions and carrots until they had only the slightest hint of crunch left to them. Then came the pearl onions, which had to be carefully monitored so that the layers wouldn’t break apart and their shape lost forever. (This task required monumental patience.) The mushrooms too had to be done little by little so as to not crowd them.
Eventually, everything was ready to put into a soup pot and simmer. By this point, I had made it through two episodes of Doctor Who reruns and my feet hurt and so welcomed the idea of leaving the concoction in the oven for the next three hours. Unfortunately, it turns out that when you slow cook in an oven, you have to monitor things far more closely than if you just dump them into a slow cooker. This meant that at regular intervals I got up to check on my experiment as the clock ticked into the wee hours of the morning.
Finally, the timer chimed to remind me that it was time to reduce the sauce. Apparently, in Child’s recipe, the sauce doesn’t thicken as the ingredients stew. You have to strain it out separately and reduce it on the stove and then dump it back onto the meat. Five hours and 15 steps later, the beef bourguignon was complete. I added one extra step and chose to let it rest overnight because I know from experience that this particular dish tastes better on the second day. And boy was I right.
When compared side by side, everyone, including the Frenchman himself, raved about Child’s recipe. The meat was perfectly tender and the wine perfectly balanced the herby overtones and deeply caramelized flavors. The sauce too had the perfect consistency for eating on a spoon or sopping up with bread. After enjoying a bowlful, I was glowing with pride. Although time-consuming and not an everyday undertaking, this recipe is quite possibly the best beef bourguignon recipe out there.
In short, 56 years after Julia Child gifted America with this recipe, her interpretation of a French classic still reigns supreme. Don’t believe it? I recommend you try it for yourself.
Watch the video here:Julia Child’s beef bourguignon
See the written recipe here:beef bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Have you cooked Julia Child’s beef bourguignon? Tweet us and tell us about your experience @BritandCo.
(Photos via Jessi Devenyns)