A Very Julia Christmas

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I had a great holiday!
Christmas Dinner 2009
For the past few weeks I’ve been planning, reading, youtubing, facebooking and tweeting to design the best Christmas dinner I could. After much research I decided to make Beef Bourguignon for Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
I woke up around 5am yesterday morning and was like a little kid on Christmas morning. I was so excited about dinner that I couldn’t go back to sleep.
I did everything I could to entertain myself – I showered, took my time doing my hair, emptied the dishwasher, brought all the laundry into the basement, tidied the dining room and kitchen, and read through the recipe (at least twice more).
Finally at 9 am I decided it was “late enough” and I started.
Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
9 am – preparing the ingredients
Most of the ingredients were pretty standard. The few that were a bit unusual were:

  • Whole chuck roast – so it could be cut up into 2″ cubes
  • Chunk (unsliced) bacon – to cut into “lardons” (little logs cut into 1-1/2″ inch length x 1/4″ depth and height)
  • The wine – not an unusual ingredient, but Julia is very specific about wine pairing in the book (I love that!). For this recipe we needied a full-bodied, young wine. I went with a Bordeaux. You use an entire bottle in the stew so it’s worth finding something you like.

After cutting the chuck and removing any larger pieces of fat, you dry the meat – just pat it dry on all sides with a paper towel. Julia explains that this allows the meat to brown properly and I did see a difference during browning. She also cautions about overcrowding the meat in the pot so I did it in three batches. I just tossed the lardons in each of the batches as well.
After browning the meats, you saute the onions and carrot in the same pot. The onions took on a great color.
Place the meat back in. Sprinkle it with 2 Tbs of flour and place in a 450° oven for 4 minutes. Stir up the meat and put it back for another 4 minutes. This cooks the flour and gave it a nice crispy shell.
10:30 am – stove top simmer
Take the pot out of the oven and add the wine (recipe says 3 cups but a bottle is just over 3 cups so I used the whole bottle) and enough stock just to cover the meat. Add in the bacon rind, a crumbled bay leaf and some thyme and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Place it in a 325° oven for 2.5-3 hours.
Note: 325° was too hot for my oven. After a few adjustments, 250° was perfect.
11 am – pearl onions and mushrooms
mushrooms and onions
One of the unusual techniques Julia uses is to cook the soft vegetables separately and add them at the end. This allows them to retain their shape and not become a big mush in the bottom of the pan. It’s a great technique.
I learned that pearl onions from scratch are *a lot* of work. You have to blanch the onions for about 25 seconds to loosen their skins. Then you cut a tiny part off the root and tip ends, and score a cross in the root end so it doesn’t explode when being cooked. This probably took 45 minutes.
Then the onions got a 10 minute saute in some oil and butter, and a 50 minute braise in a 1/2 cup of stock to give them more flavor and allow them to take on a brown color so they look like they belong in the stew.
The mushrooms were the surprise star of the meal. They were so simple but were the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.
best mushrooms evar
Take large white mushrooms and quarter them. Melt 2 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs oil over high heat. Add the mushrooms and shake vigorously for 4-5 minutes. Julia notes that the mushrooms will first absorb all the liquid and then release it again – so don’t add any more fat. She was right. 4-5 minutes later the mushrooms were perfectly cooked. Season with salt and pepper and you’re done.
I think the high heat is what makes these mushrooms sing. I will be making these a lot
1 pm – sat down to take a break and process some of the photos for flickr
2 pm – checked the beef and it was tender. time to make the sauce
cooking down the sauce
Take the stew out of the oven and pour it into a strainer set over a sauce pan. Wash out the pot used in the oven and replace the meat in the clean pot. Stir in the onions and mushrooms.
While I was making the sauce I wrapped a sourdough boule in aluminum foil and placed it in the oven to get nice and hot.
Defat the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. My sauce was too thin so I cooked it down for 10 minutes over a rapid boil but it still wasn’t thick enough. I added about 1.5 Tbs of flour and that did the trick. Note: Julia never mentions needing the flour but I was afraid of cooking down the sauce too much and not having enough liquid left.
Pour the sauce over the meat, stir and simmer for a few minutes.
fully assembled
3 pm – dinner is served
christmas dinner
Things I learned:

  • Julia Child is a wonderful teacher! She doesn’t just tell you what to do – she tells you why to do it. She gives you the information you need to make good decisions on the fly. She is amazing and I can’t believe it took me this long to become a fan. A really, really big fan. Julia rocks.
  • I like big chunks of meat in a stew. It allowed them to remain as big chunks instead of shredding apart.
  • Patting meat dry makes a big difference when browning.
  • Cooking a stew in the oven is great! One less pan on the stove top and no concern about burning the bottom. I stirred it once or twice during cooking and that was it.
  • Sourdough is the perfect accompaniment to a strongly flavored stew (thanks for the suggestion, Liz!). It cut the flavor of the wine very nicely.
  • Next time, serve the mushrooms on their own. The wine overpowered the mushrooms and while there was nothing wrong with them, you couldn’t taste their awesome subtle flavor once they were in the stew.
  • Buttered noodles would be a good thing next time. The meal was quite heavy and full of flavor. I think I’d like a something “plain” to go along with it.

7 thoughts on “A Very Julia Christmas

  1. Sounds like you had a delicious meal. Both of those Julia Child volumes are fabulous and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed them. It’s funny I read your blog today, my husband and I just watched Julie and Julia last night with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and it was a delightful movie. We have both been Julia Child fans for years. My mother was french and even adored her. If you have seen the movie already, there is a book she receives as a gift, and I have that book, it was my mothers. It is also fabulous, written in french of course. :-) Bon Appetit!

  2. We have Beef Burgundy every year for Christmas at my mother’s house and always have it with a simple green salad and egg noodles. So delicious. Yours looks fantastic.

  3. It looks divine. Since seeing the Julie and Julia movie I’ve been thinking about trying this dish. Your notes will be particularly helpful!

  4. I’ve had the PBS special on Julia dvd’d for ages and finally got around to watching it Christmas Eve. The first show was about making omelets and of course I decided to make an omelet as soon as it was over. It was the best omelet I’ve ever had! Rivaled omelets at Parisian cafes, if I say so myself. She’s an awesome chef, now I want her cookbook and entire dvd series! Wonder if it’s on Netflix…

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