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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I did it my way

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 By

We had about two pounds of venison stew meat in the freezer, and I didn't know what to do with it. "Make stew," Scott said. Well, yes, thanks. I'd never have come up with that on my own.

But I don't really like beef stew, which is where he was going with that. So I decided to try Bouef Bourguignon, even if I can't spell it and have no idea what it's supposed to taste like.

But I was not going to be defeated by a freezer bag of meat. Unless, you know, someone hit me in the head with it. Then... ouch.

So I found a recipe that seemed reasonable, and bought the couple of ingredients we were missing (everything except onions and stew meat) and set to work. I vowed to create the perfect dish... so long as it wasn't too much work, or anything. And, as it turns out, it was kind of a pain just to put together.

  1. I don't have a Dutch oven. It's on my list of Things I Really Should Own, but I don't. I just used our largest pot instead. 
  2. I didn't read the recipe right and cooked twice the amount of bacon I needed. Oops.
  3. Unsalted butter...? You're joking, right? Never gonna happen. Only serious bakers keep that on hand in the fridge.
  4. There is no such thing as frozen whole onions. The author made that junk up. I thought, briefly, about buying a pound of jarred cocktail onions, but that would just require enough vodka to go with it. Skip it. So I chopped a pound of yellow onion instead.
    Something I've learned about French cooks is that they want you to brown everything separately, on all sides, and then recombine it. That must be the real secret to legendary French cooking. It's not "hard" so much as it is "a big pain in the butt."

    Obviously, I resented the recipe from the moment I set out to make it. So it went like this:
    • Brown too much bacon. Ooh, snacks!
    • Brown the venison and mushrooms together, crowding the pieces against all advice, all the while kicking myself for not draining the bacon grease first and just using the 50-years-seasoned cast iron skillet for what it is.
    • Cook the baby carrots (no chopping! Yay!) with the chopped yellow onion and the garlic. Wander off, distracted by Facebook exchange. Rush back in when I smell something burning.
    • Pick out burned carrot and then stare at the subsequent instructions with astonishment: They want me to set it on fire? Ponder idea for a couple of minutes, remember that I like my eyebrows, and skip it. There's an entire bottle of wine in this. Cognac is just greedy. 
    • Chuck the meats and mushrooms back in, pour in the wine and broth. 
    • Crap. It's not enough beef broth. Add about three cups of chicken broth. Wonder if Julia Child is shaking her spatula at me from heaven.
    • Add everything else, start to put it in the oven. Realize that the plastic handles on this piece of crap pot are going to melt off in there. Back onto the stove to simmer it goes.
    • Oh, no. I forgot the focaccia that I put in the oven an hour ago. Wow. That's some toasty foccacia... well, whatever. It's meant for dipping anyway, so I crunch it into slices with my giant, awesomely sharp carving knife.
    • Stew simmers on the stove for about 30 minutes, about an hour less than recommended. Is it enough time to fully combine the wine, broth, spices and solid ingredients? I don't know. But it's a killer stew.
    I realize that Julia Child and others are a revelation for a lot of people with her instructions on how to properly brown meat (dry it first) and not crowding the mushrooms and such. And that's great, if you're a Trappist monk with nothing else to do. But I did it The Way of the Bumbling Fool and it turned out beautifully.

    So I guess the lesson here is that while technique is important, and I certainly understand the importance of a proper browning, there is flexibility in almost everything. It just depends on knowing where you can bend the rules.

    And that's why I don't bake. But that's a story for another time.


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