The Farmer and The French Chef

Once, when I was talking to a friend about dog training, he mentioned that his trainer had described his dog as being “food motivated.”  I laughed, and said in all seriousness that the same could be said of me.

You might think that pretty much all small-scale farmers like Andrew and me are deeply motivated by food, and if by that you mean the production of it, you would probably be correct.  I do truly love to help plants grow, just as Andrew loves nothing better than to husband his animals, but let’s not get too Romantic here.  Really, I just love to eat good food.

A definite perk of my job is that I have access to large quantities of it, most of the time: freezers full of meat, a walk-in cooler with dozens of eggs and crates upon crates of apples, and a high tunnel that, even in this bleak winter is still abundant with kale, carrots, spinach, and lettuce.  But while most farmers are drowning in food,  many of them are still not eating well.  I, however, do not work as hard as I do growing food to scrounge together a lunch of peanut butter eaten by the spoonful while standing.

Which is not to say that such days have not happened.  They do.  And then I become rather grumpy.

Inevitably, there will be days when I work from sun-up to sun-down, and at the close of such days I’m going to want to collapse into a comfy chair and do nothing more strenuous than opening a bottle of wine.  That said, I do not feel that peanut butter, taken straight, is an appropriate accompaniment to wine.  Besides, it is the days when we’ve worked hardest when I most want a celebratory dinner.  Last weekend, I solved my dilemma.

Saturday was our third “on farm” winter CSA distribution (sort of…due to sub-freezing temperatures and stubborn snow we trespassed upon the generosity of our church and held pick up in a Sunday School classroom.  I think our members were none too upset by the change of venue…)  Winter CSA days are inevitably hectic, full of last minute harvesting and washing and packing and tidying and babysitting and customer servicing and, and, and.  We love these days, because we love our members (No idea what we did right to attract all of this good karma, but I hope we can keep doing it), but we usually end the day in a near coma.

I wanted a hearty, hot meal to be waiting for us at home, not least because  friends were babysitting Sylvan all afternoon, and I feel a pathological obligation to repay babysitting with really good meals.

Here is my secret: a braise.

Braises cook long and slow, and benefit from 24 (or more!) hours of rest in which flavors merge, meld, and develop.  You make them when you have time,  and eat them when you do not.  Braises take inexpensive, tough cuts of meat and turn them into exquisitely tender dishes fit for the most discerning gourmand.  And they usually leave you with leftovers.  What is not to love?

On Friday, while Andrew was at our Bethesda market and Sylvan napped, I prepped and then started Julia Child’s famous Beef Bourguignon.  I figured that a dish advertised as “quite possibly the most delicious beef dish known to man” would provide adequate sustenance for a post-CSA dinner.  I did all the cutting of meat, carrots, and onions during Sylvan’s morning nap, as well as the braising of pearl onions in stock.  Then, when he took his afternoon nap, I cooked the bacon, browned the beef, and set everything to simmering in the oven.  By the time Andrew arrived home, our house smelled sinfully amazing and I was nursing the remnants of the bottle of red that formed the backbone of the Bourguignon‘s sauce.  A good day’s work.

When CSA concluded on Saturday, I had only to reheat the braise, boil some potatoes, and throw together a salad.  I could do that much from my deathbed, I think. 

There are plenty of other braises out there (maybe I should do a braising series?), many of which require less prep work than Julia’s Beef Bourguignon.  Still, if you want “the most delicious beef dish known to man,” a little bit of onion peeling seems worth the effort.

So…I should have taken a picture of this…but we were kind of hungry.  Use your imagination, and assume that it was awesome.

Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

  • 1 6 ounce piece chunk bacon
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pounds lean stew beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups red wine, young and full bodied
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • 20 small white onions
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry. (I skipped this step to no discernible negative effect)

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to side dish with a slotted spoon.

Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.  In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).  Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly. Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top. Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for 1-2 minutes, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.


One response to “The Farmer and The French Chef

  1. Thanks,

    From my iPad


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s