Boeuf Bourguignon

Some months ago, I was able to buy a 2-liter bottle of Burgundy--Californian, not French, unfortunately, which was why it was only around ten bucks--and put it away. Few weeks ago I shopped in earnest for all the ingredients: I was determined to make Beef Burger--uh, Boeuf Bourguignon.

It wasn't too hard to round up; only the beef shoulder wasn't available, so the butcher recommended chuck roast, of which I bought over four pounds. And the bacon wasn't supposed to be smoked, which was problematic, until I found sliced pork belly that was salted, not smoked. The butcher recommended I soak it in water before frying, but when I said I was going to make a stew, he agreed that I should just toss it in.

So I chopped two celeries, a small turnip, six carrots, two onions, and sliced the beef chuck into large cubes; then in a big, heavy pot, melted two ounces of butter with four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in high heat, and browned the chuck in batches until browned, sometimes crispy brown. Set aside the meat, threw in the onions, cooked till translucent; threw in the bacon, cooked a little longer, added the rest of the vegetables plus a sprig each of rosemary, oregano, thyme; a bunch of parsley; a mess of chopped garlic; a paste made from an ounce of melted butter and an ounce of flour, and stirred it all up, scraping the bottom for burnt bits. Added the beef back (which made a rich crackling sound), and tipped the bottle of Burgundy (crackle turning into sizzle), making it gurgle (sizzle fading away into blessed silence) till the bottle ran out (drip, drip). Stirred. Waited till it boiled, added kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, a tablespoon of Black Currant-flavored Creme de Cassis, then turned the heat down to a simmer and sat down for four hours.

Yeah, right. Actually, I cut up a loaf of Italian bread into inch cubes (roughly) and put them in a 350 degree oven for five minutes to dry, mashed up half a mortar's worth of extra-virgin olive oil, three cloves of garlic and a large pinch of salt until paste, sieved the oil into a medium hot pan, then threw in the bread cubes and stirred until they browned. Do this again, as a loaf of Italian bread has to be done in two batches.

I'd been stirring the stew every now and then and tasting. At first it tasted harsh, all thin, sour wine; when the meat relaxed and gave up its fat and the wine's alcohol cooked away, the sourness mellowed and the soup thickened into stew. By the time the carrots were soft, the beef chuck falling-apart tender, the herbs an unrecognizable mess (tried to fish as much of them out as possible), the stew has become a rich, aromatic brew, thick enough to be sauce, with interesting bits of blackened meat and pale turnips and bright orange carrots floating up and sinking down in a kind of restless cycle.

Chopped some fresh parsley, threw it in; ladled the stew into bowls, topped each bowl with a handful of croutons, and served.

We were very, very quiet that night, almost as if someone had died. Well, not totally quiet; the slurping was almost indecent.

Couldn't finish all of it, no matter how hungry we were, so I put it away in the fridge, and ate it for a period of a week. Every day I spooned it out, reheated it, and topped it with garlic croutons; the stew just got mellower and mellower, the texture thickened, the flavor got all the richer. By the time I got to the bottom of the pot it was all crunchy bits in a flavorful sludge that made the top of your head explode every time you took a sip (a slurp, rather). Which goes to show--sometimes you can cook something better than you can spell it.

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