Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beef and Onions Braised in Beer

As each New Year rolls around, it’s time for one thing for the Fay ladies in L.A.: our annual Southern Blues potluck party. But after three years of grits and bourbon (and the food/drink hangover that goes with so much hard alcohol and fried food), my cousin Jeanne sent out a new theme: recipes from Julia Child. Instead of collard greens, green beans in butter. Instead of pulled pork, beef bourguignon.

As usual, it was a feast. More than thirty guests (including my brother-in-law dressed as Julia Child and my sister Julie dressed as Paul), and at least twenty dishes, from scalloped potatoes to an amazing chocolate mousse from my cousin Jody. As for my contribution, I chose Julia’s Beef and Onions Braised in Beer. This was my pick for a couple reasons. It looked unique, and more importantly, it looked easy to make. I confess that although I’ve had my Julia Child cookbookfor a couple years, this is the first dish I’ve made from it. I’m too intimidated by it—plus I’m still easing my way through Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking.

My main comment on this recipe: Don’t scrimp on the beef. The recipe calls for lean beef from the chuck roast or rump, but my butcher (oh how I love saying that!) at Marconda’s Meats at the Third & Fairfax Farmers Market read through the recipe and recommended chuck filet boneless short ribs instead. This meat was gorgeous as I was slicing it, and when the dish was done … sigh. So tender. I didn’t want to take it to the party. I wanted to keep it for myself, to devour on the spot and eat the leftovers in sandwiches the rest of the week. Subtle, hearty, and simple, this is the dish for your next winter dinner party—just add some roasted baby potatoes and maybe a green salad and you’re set.

*** I don’t know how to format the recipe to match the style Julia uses in her book, so I will wing it and hope the staggering of ingredients and directions here works.

Beef and Onions Braised in Beer (Carbonnades a la Flamande)
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child

From Julia: Beer is typical for the Belgian braise, and gives a quite different character to beef than the red wine of the bourguignon. A bit of brown sugar masks the beer’s slightly bitter quality, and a little vinegar at the end gives character.

For 6 people

Step One:

- 3-lb. piece of chuck filet boneless short ribs
- 2 to 3 Tbsp good cooking oil
- A heavy skillet

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the beef into slices about 2 by 4 inches across and 1/2 inch thick. Dry on paper towels. Put a 1/16-inch layer of fat or oil in the skillet and heat until almost smoking. Brown the beef slices quickly, a few at a time, and set them aside.

Step Two:

- 1 1/2 lbs. or 6 cups sliced onions
- Salt and pepper
- 4 cloves mashed garlic

Reduce heat to moderate. Stir the onions into the fat in the skillet, adding more fat if necessary, and brown the onions lightly for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the garlic.

Step Three:

- a 9- to 10- inch fireproof casserole about 3 1/2 inches deep (my Le Creuset 3-quart oval French Oven was perfect for this)
- Salt and pepper

Arrange half the browned beef in the casserole and season lightly with salt and pepper. Spread half the onions over the beef. Repeat with the rest of the beef and onions.

Step Four:

- 1 cup strong beef bouillon
- 2 to 3 cups light Pilsner beer
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 large herb bouquet: parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf, and thyme tied in cheesecloth

Heat the bouillon in the browning skillet, scraping up coagulated cooking juices. Pour it over the meat. Mix the beer and brown sugar and add so the meat is barely covered. Bury the herb bouquet among the meat slices. Bring casserole to the simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and place in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid remains at a very slow simmer for 2 1/2 hours at the end of which time the meat should be fork-tender.

Step Five:

- 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Blend the cornstarch and vinegar. Remove the herb bouquet. Drain the cooking liquid out of the casserole into a saucepan and skim off fat. Beat the starch/vinegar mixture into the cooking liquid and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. You should have about 2 cups of sauce. Pour the sauce back over the meat.

*** The recipe may be prepared in advance to this point. If you prepare it in advance, when you are ready to serve, cover the casserole and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes until the meat is thoroughly heated through.