The back story:
It’s December 2009 in New York City and a huge blizzard is coming in tonight. That means I’ll be making soup, (I still have an old goose carcass somewhere in the freezer I think, among the odd body part) and wrestling with my fireplace to get a glow on. The first furry flurries have already started. My dear friend and ex-neighbor, filmmaker Steve Lippman, has requested that for the occasion of his 50th birthday, a traditional Boeuf a la Bourguignon, be made by Miss Eydie for himself and 8 of his friends. I attribute this request to a) the fact that Steve is a raging, unapologetic carnivore and b) to the popularity of the film “Julie and Julia.” Suddenly, everyone is dusting off their old copies of “Mastering The Art Of French Cooking” and craving old school Gallic goodies like Coq au Vin and Coquilles St. Jacques. I am up to the challenge, having made an “authentic” Boeuf when I lived in Los Angeles years ago. Let me tell you it was not easy finding a calf’s foot in LA. I finally found a Kosher butcher somewhere deep in the Valley and procured this essential ingredient.The procedure takes two days….It’s more than just a bowl of stew…and it starts with the best butchers in NYC- The Ottomanellis.
Assembling the ingredients: Day 1
My first stop is to visit my old friends on Bleecker St. at Ottomanelli & Sons : Frank,Jerry, Peter and Joe. This shop smells like meat and blood…if you’re a vegetarian -forget it, don’t even go near this place, or you’ll have a convulsion.There are hanging carcasses, dead bunny rabbits in the window,and the butcher brother/cousins wear bloodstained white coats much like mad lab assistants. But I have been coming here ever since moving to the West Village in 1981 – the old man himself was behind the counter then, Onofrio Ottomanelli. My then-boyfriend and I would buy our game,usually a goose or pheasant, for Thanksgiving holiday, my son grew up on the bologna and the rib-eye steaks, I’d order a beautiful trimmed rack of lamb for special dinners, and I could always get fresh squab, D’Artagnan products and fresh chicken breasts for Gabe’s Jamaican nanny to make her famous jerk chicken. The West Village was much more down home Italian back then…there was a “social club” on Bedford St, Zito’s Bakery, where you could be tantalized by the smell of the delectable semolina loaves being baked if you were out partying late enough , Cafe Lucca, where my parents and I would sip cappuccino and play backgammon, and an appetizing store where the owner would make fresh mozzarella cheese in the back room. Murray’s Cheese was a tiny, cramped storefront on Cornelia and Bleecker and Kenny & Eve Shopsin ran their legendary grocery store /sandwich shop on my corner.
Frank cuts me about of 6 lbs of beef chuck into large pieces,trims it a bit, then holds it up for inspection. Bello! I already have some slab bacon at home, but think that a little bit of pancetta will also be a nice touch to sprinkle on top with the parsley and croutons. Frank doesnt bat an eye when I ask him for the split calf’s foot, but runs in the back and gets one. I ask him to slice it with his super frozen meat saw,(wow…did I just write that??) since I like to add it incrementally…the purpose of this ingredient is to add gelatin, and thus body to the dish… I remember my mom and grandmother talking about eating jellied calf’s feet.
Anyway….after more schmoozing with Frank as he wraps my packages, I head to the wine store. The selection? Obviously red burgundy. Not quite the gallon jug of Almaden Burgundy I used to guzzle in college, but wine that comes from the Burgundy region of eastern France. That’s where this famous dish is from and I want to wine to reflect and add to the authenticity. I never cook with anything that I wouldn’t drink on its own- but there’s no need to get crazy with the wine I am going to marinate the beef and vegetables in. I do spring for a couple of more upscale bottles to actually drink with the bourguignon. 2006 Hautes Cotes de Beaune should do the trick on my
budget. Off to the Union Sq. Greenmarket for the vegetables -carrots, yellow onion, white mushrooms, leeks, garlic, and for the bouquet garni: Italian parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Brussell sprouts will make a great accompaniment,combined with pistachios and grated Pecorino cheese. My last stop…Murrays Cheese, for some Turkish pistachios, an aged Pecorino and a Tom Cat baguette for the croutons.
Prepping the Bourguignon : Chop,chop,marinate
First…I must put on some cooking music.Hmmm -if I put on vinyl,Ill have to run over to the turntable every 25 minutes or so. No good.The ipod will be just fine…I have a playlist full of incredible music, mostly 78s, that my friend Harry Arends sends me every Friday. That’s some good chopping music: The Ponce Sisters, (personal faves) Helen Kane, Teddy Wilson, Artie Shaw, Earl Hines, Al Katz and His Kittens, Miss Sophie Tucker and for speed chopping, “Tiger Rag” by The Mills Bros.
Next, my cooking clothes go on… I’ve recently come into possession of a snazzy black cook’s jacket ,but I still have my favorite stained aprons…many with buttons pinned on them….”I Slept With Bill Clinton” is probably my favorite.( I nicked it off of Kenny Shopsin’s apron)
First thing to do is prepare the vegetables…the beef has already been cut into pieces. Carrots are first peeled and diced, ( as well as I can- my knife technique leaves much to be desired. SEND ME TO COOKING SCHOOL….SOMEBODY!) then the onions are divested of their papery wrapping and also sliced and diced. Miss Eydie’s Cooking Tip #1 : To avoid eye irritation whilst peeling onions, wear your snorkeling gear. That’s right…the mask AND the snorkel. You may look ridiculous.However,your eyes and other delicate membranes will thank you. You can forgo the fins if you wish.
Leeks need to be carefully washed,as dirt hides in the folds of the vegetable. Chop the white part, while discarding the tough top green leaves. I make a bouquet garni in a small cheesecloth bag with a bay leaf, some parsley and thyme, about 5 or 6 black peppercorns,and 2 or 3 peeled garlic cloves.
That’s all she wrote..for now. Combine the beef, the veggies and the bouquet garni in a large bowl or stewpot. Open 2 bottles of your Burgundy, and pour over the mixture. Resist the urge to take a swig .Wait for the good stuff. Cover, and marinate in fridge overnight. Go out for dinner.
DAY 2 -La cuisson a commencer-It’s Party Time
Now the fun begins…its best to let the Bourguignon sit a bit and develop its favors before you dig in…but I made this the day of the party. Here’s where you need many strainers, all kinds of spoons and utensils and extra pots…if you can wrangle a sous-chef or a willing teenager (do these exist?) or partner to wash up while you’re constructing this…so much the better. I do not own a dishwasher…my original impulse was that it was a beneficial Zen exercise to just focus on the simple task of washing dishes-there’s something very satisfying about putting 100% of yourself into this uncomplicated,elementary activity. Also, people that do dishes together, share secrets…trust me on this.
Back to the prep: Drain the beef and vegetables. This turns out to be more complicated than it sounds.You need to reserve the marinade and bouquet packet separately and set the vegetables aside. The problem is the beef won’t brown properly if it is wet. I’ve made this mistake before. So I begin the time consuming, but necessary process of patting down the beef with paper towels. This is a tricky thing, cause the beef is now plump and soaked with marinade and you don’t want to lose that. Once the beef is no longer dripping with marinade and ready to be cooked, season it with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat oil ( I use either olive or vegetable ) in a heavy casserole, and brown those suckers!! Doesn’t it smell great? Keep a careful eye on the proceedings, while dancing around the kitchen to Aretha and Fred Hammond, turning the beef so that the pieces brown evenly. You just want to create a nice caramelization on the outside-the slow cooking to soften and tenderize the meat fibers comes later.
Remove the browned beef to a bowl, and then add the diced veggies to the casserole.Stir and dance, stir and dance. Shake it like a Polaroid PICKCHA! Return the beef, sprinkle with a bit of flour , and cook ,while stirring till the flour in no longer raw.Add marinade (this is a great moment- enjoy it!) bouquet garni, and the calf’s foot. Bring all this to a boil- then skim the foam that rises.Reduce heat to low and cover the casserole. Simmer until beef is tender -about 2 1/2 hours. Take a nap or write a song.
Feeling refreshed, you return to work. Remove the beef from the pot and put into a clean bowl.Discard the calf’s foot and the bouquet garni. Bye bye little foot. Now you want to reduce that sauce…put it on Weight Watchers .It’s got all that beefy goodness and gelatin which will make it thick and shiny. If I have beef stock or even some demi-glace lying around, I may add it at this
point, just to take it over the edge.While the sauce reduces over medium heat, you can make the homemade croutons and prepare the bacon/pancetta.First, take out your crusty,trusty baguette and slice it. Preheat oven to 350, and lay the slices on a cookie
sheet. Toast till golden.(I like to do both sides…so I flip them) While they’re still warm, rub them with raw garlic…and cut into cubes or squares or whatever. If you like to multi-task like me, then you will start heating a iron skillet, cut the pancetta into cubes and/or lay the slab bacon out . While the bacon is cooking, clean, trim and slice the white mushrooms.Cook till crisp -then remove ,drain and set aside. leave the fat in the skillet and throw the mushrooms in and cook for about 5 minutes or so.
A recap and the final steps
Ok…so let’s review at this point . We’ve got the sauce reducing happily, the beef set aside. The bacon is cooked, the croutons are made., the mushrooms are ready. Start a big pot of salted water
boiling for the egg noodles. Wash and trim the brussel sprouts, score them with a cross on the bottom ( it helps them to cook)and start their steaming process. Ummm….Now comes a messy part.
I like to press the sauce with a big wooden spoon through a medium fine strainer over a bowl…this process refines the sauce and presses out the last bit of essence from the vegetables….It takes some time and you need to put a little bit of muscle into it. Put on some Stevie Ray Vaughan and get to it. When you’re finished, you’ll have a big bowl of glistening, robust, sauce. Taste for seasonings and add the beef back into the bowl. Sauté some pistachios in butter and pour them over the brussel sprouts, coarsely grate the Pecorino over that. Your noodles should be drained, buttered and placed on a nice serving dish, perhaps with a sprinkle of parsley.
Garnish the beef with bacon, mushrooms,parsley and croutons and ladle out over a serving of buttered noodles. Gather your friends, open the great Burgundy, pour , and crank up the music.
A glass of Champagne/Vodka tonics
Boeuf a la Bourguinon
Brussel Sprouts w/ pistachios and Pecorino
The birthday dinner was a fantastic evening and my darling carnivore Steve was contented, with all his prezzies, his friends gathered, the music and the coziness of it all….the snows did come and there is little more fully satisfying than good friends, a roaring fire, great wine, music and conversation and a bowl of stew made with love!
A tous mes amis…Bon Appetit,