When it snows eight inches, there's only one thing you can do.
And what better than beef bourguignon, the classic French stew? But I didn't want to settle for the Julia Child version; being stuck indoors, I was feeling more ambitious and decided to go with the Thomas Keller version instead.
The basic principle is pretty simple. You reduce some wine, add it to beef stock and braise some tough cut of beef until it's tender. Then you add some cooked root vegetables and eat it.
The challenge in making any stew -- much less this one -- is elevating each ingredient into something sublime. In other words, each component needs to taste exactly like what it is. But there must also be something inevitable about each ingredient. Without it, the stew wouldn't exist to its full potential. And if anything were added to it, it would upset the harmony of the stew and taste out of place.
To accomplish this goal, I had to break some laws of Economy that have been imprinted upon my midwestern DNA. In making the wine reduction for the braise, I added carrots, onion, leeks, and garlic. The wine reduction was then strained before it was added to the beef stock. More mirepoix vegetables were added to the beef stock during the braising process. These too were discarded. Someone might think that I wasted a lot of vegetables; one taste of the broth will immediately convince that person otherwise.
After the meat has been braised, refrigerate it for several hours with the broth. This will help ensure that the meat retains enough of its moisture. It will also allow you to skim more fat off that would otherwise upset the beautiful sheen of an elegant stew.
At this point, pick all the meat out of the broth and set it aside. Discard all of the vegetables and skim the broth several times (I used a coffee filter) until all the "stuff" stuck in suspension has been removed. The two most important parts of the stew are done: braised beef and a flavorful, beautiful broth. If you'd like, you could simply combine the two and dig in.
I grew up eating stew with vegetables in it, so that's how I like it. To prepare the vegetable garnishes, Thomas Keller recommends adding fingerling potatoes, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Since it's not spring, I didn't have any fingerling potatoes. And since it's not the middle of the summer, I didn't have any celery. But I did have cute little red potatoes and some celeriac.
I simmered the potatoes until they were tender, used a towel to remove the skin, and quartered them.
I sautéd the carrots and celeriac in some butter and let them steam until al denté.
The mushrooms were also sautéd in butter until brown and delicious.
Keller's recipe calls for a cab, but lacking that, I used one of the bottles of côtes du Rhône that I always try to keep on hand for just such occasions. It was less fruit-forward, but upon significant reduction I'm sure the difference was minor. (Besides, unlike Keller, I don't share his enthusiasm for all things Californian.)
The recipe also calls for boneless shortribs. Lacking those, I used some beef stew meat from my Sylvan Meadows Farm CSA. I can only imagine how amazing the result would be with such a fine cut of meat, but it turned out pretty well anyway.
Instead of adding fresh thyme, which I'm sure would have been delightful, I decided to add rosemary instead. It added an appropriate seasonal note to it that otherwise would have been lacking. The rosemary also paired well with the Capital Brewery US Pale Ale I enjoyed with the stew. The hoppy notes mirrored the piney flavor of the rosemary, and the carbonation cleared the palate and left me hungry for more.
If you're in the habit of making your own stocks as I am, I encourage you double-check that you've thoroughly de-fatted your stock before adding it. The presence of "stuff" in the stock makes it difficult to throughly remove it later.
The stew was delicious, with tender meat with vegetables cooked to the point of doneness and no futher. A broth infused with beef, root vegetables, and grapes. Everything in its place, squared away, and the way it should be.
It didn't make me forget the snow bringing the world around me to a standstill. It made me revel in it.