Tuesday, January 10, 2012

making Superman's beef bourguignon - with pictures!

Hey kids, you like beef?  Well, Superman does, as I wrote about when I first posted the recipe to his world-famous beef bourguignon a few weeks back.  The recipe is quite daunting and seemed perhaps a bit fancy for my tastes, but as I'm in the habit of making comic book recipes, apparently (check out my attempt at Larfleeze's Orange Lantern cookies!), I knew that I had to give it a shot - for Superman.  For Superman.

I'll repost the recipe here with pictures of my attempt so all can vicariously experience making this painstakingly-involved meal for yourselves.  One note before we get started - I'm not a big fan of booze, and as such I substituted for the alcoholic additions when they were called for.  This most certainly changed the end product's taste as mine ended up more beefy than it otherwise would have.  If you want to follow this recipe, just use wine instead of the non-alcoholic alternative and (highly flammable) brandy.  Let's begin (the recipe is italicized, my notes are in plain text)!


            6-8 ounces salt pork, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
            4 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
            4 pounds trimmed beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes, patted dry with paper towels
            10-12 shallots, chopped, about 2 cups
            2 large, peeled carrots, 1 chopped, 1 cut into 2-inch chunks
            4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
            1 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
            2 Tbsp tomato paste
            1/2 cup brandy, plus 2 Tbsp
            1 bottle Pinot Noir, or other red wine
            Beef Stock (low sodium), at least 1 cup, quite easily more
            1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
            2 bay leaves
            2 teaspoons dried thyme
            4 whole cloves
            24 pearl onions, fresh or frozen
            1 lb fresh shiitake, cremini or button mushrooms
            Beurre manie: 3 Tbsp flour blended with 2 Tbsp butter

1 If you are using them, pour 1 cup of boiling water over the dried porcini mushrooms and allow them to rehydrate for 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and chop coarsely. Pour the soaking water through a paper towel (to remove any dirt or debris) into a bowl and set aside.

I totally didn't use this (optional) mushroom.  It was only an ounce, and while fans of mushrooms might balk at me saying this, I was already using a pound of button mushrooms and didn't think an ounce of another would make that much of a difference.

2 In a large sauté pan, pour enough water to cover the bottom by about 1/8 inch. Over medium heat, cook the salt pork in the pan until the water evaporates, stirring occasionally. Once the water is gone, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook the salt pork until much of the fat has rendered out of it. Add a tablespoon of butter and continue to cook the salt pork unti the pieces are browned and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the salt pork pieces to a large Dutch oven or other large, thick-bottomed, lidded pot.

I had never used salt pork before, and as you can see, it is about 2/3rds fat to 1/3rd meat.  It popped and sizzled in the pan and smelled much like bacon.  Most of the fat melted off during the cooking, and it served as a base for the sauce that was to come later.  This ain't the most healthy meal, but I guess Superman doesn't have to worry about his arteries clogging.

3 Increase the heat to medium-high. Working in batches so that you do not crowd the pan, brown the beef. Leaving space around each piece of sizzling meat ensures that it browns and does not steam. Don't move the pieces of beef in the pan until they get a good sear, then turn them so they can get browned on another side. Take your time. This will take 15-25 minutes, depending on how large a sauté pan you have. Once browned, remove the beef from the sauté pan and place in the Dutch oven with the salt pork.

4 When all the beef has browned, add the shallots, the one chopped carrot, and the chopped porcini mushrooms if using. Stir in the pot to remove any browned, stuck-on bits in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and the tomato paste. Cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.

5 Add the brandy and stir to combine. Boil down by half, then add the strained mushroom soaking water (if using). Scrape any remaining browned bits off the bottom of the sauté pan and pour the contents of the pan into the Dutch oven.

I pretty much ignored step 5.  Once I combined all of the ingredients (that I chose to use), I thought it looked like I had skimped on the carrot.  I might recommend adding another whole carrot to the mix somewhere, either here or later on.

6 To the Dutch oven add the bottle of wine and enough beef stock to almost cover the beef; the beef pieces should be barely poking up out of the liquid. Add the parsley, bay leaves, thyme and cloves. Cover and bring to a bare simmer. After 1 hour, add the second carrot, peeled and cut into chunks of 1-2 inches. Continue cooking for another hour, or until the beef is tender.

Here's where I make the most drastic changes to the original recipe.  As I mentioned, I didn't use wine, but instead sparkling red grape juice (which is a non-alocholic substitute for the red wine the recipe calls for).  Not wanting to eat the equivalent of grape-flavored meat when all was said and done, I added more beef stock - four cups as opposed to the one it calls for (thought the recipe is a bit ambiguous) - to hold in more of the beef flavor than it otherwise might.  I probably used 2/3rds of the bottle of red grape juice instead of the entire thing to compensate.  Regardless, I used enough liquid to almost cover all of the meat.

I was also pretty luck to have all of the spices on hand.  I actually still had parsley growing in my outside garden (crazy!), and Larry brought some bay leaves from his probably better-stocked spice rack at home.


This is what it all looked like in the pot.  Now, the recipe calls for a dutch oven, and I'm clearly using a run-of-the-mill stove-top pot in this picture.  That's because dutch ovens, other than being a funny euphemism for, well, farts, are simply fancy lidded pots.  They're thicker and they might cook a bit more evenly, but you can (and I did) get by with a simple pot with a lid.

7 Meanwhile, trim the tough stems off the shiitake, cremini, or button mushrooms and slice into 2-3 large pieces; small mushrooms leave whole. Prepare the pearl onions. Boil them in their skins for 4-5 minutes. Drain and submerge in a bowl of ice water. Slice the tips and root ends off the onions and slip off the outer skins.

The pearl onions took forever to prepare.  Ridiculous amounts of time were spent on cutting and taking off outer layers.

8 When the beef is tender, use tongs to remove all the beef and the chunks of carrots; set aside in a bowl. Strain the contents of the Dutch oven through a fine-meshed sieve set over a medium pot. This will be the sauce. Boil the sauce down, tasting frequently. If it begins to taste too salty, turn off the heat. Otherwise, boil down until you have about 3 cups. Turn off the heat.

I found that I had cooked away too much of the sauce when the meat was done.  Using some more red grape juice and another two cups of beef stock/broth, I combined it with the sauce I had remaining, and it turned out just fine.

What a gross picture that turns out to be.  I will say that it didn't look much better in person.  I'll also again point out that more carrots (the recipe calls for two at different points) might be a good thing.

9 Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add the mushrooms. Dry sauté the mushrooms over high heat, shaking the pan and stirring often, until they release their water, about 4-5 minutes. Add the pearl onions and 3 tablespoons butter and toss to combine. Sprinkle salt over the onions and mushrooms. Sauté until the onions begin to brown. Remove from heat.

10 Returning to the sauce, reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the beurre manie. Whisk in a third of the paste, wait for it to incorporate into the sauce, then add another third of the beurre manie, and so on. Do not let this boil, but allow it to simmer very gently for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of brandy. Taste for salt and add some if needed.

The "beurre maine" is just the flour and butter.  It took a while for it to mix in with the sauce, but it eventually did and thickened the sauce up.

11 To serve, coat the beef, carrots, mushrooms and pearl onions with the sauce and serve with potatoes, egg noodles or lots of crusty bread.

And here I am - FIVE HOURS AFTER STARTING - with Larry and plates of beef bourguignon.  How apprehensive we look!  Perhaps that's because the meal is missing something...something to make it more appealing to, say, Superman...

I KNOW!  KETCHUP!  As Larry remarked when I brought out the bottle from the fridge, "I don't think ketchup has any business being in this meal", and I'm inclined to agree.  It's a bit too hearty and beefy to demand a condiment, in my opinion, but it's a key Superman ingredient, so it stayed.

And the verdict?

Not bad!  In fact, despite it's fairly unappealing look, it was pretty good - the mushrooms in particular were a pleasant surprise.  It was very beef stew-like, though I imagine the amount of beef stock and the lack of alcohol played a significant role in that.

I don't know that I'll ever be making this recipe again, because of just how much time it took to prepare.  I realize that a lot of that's on me - I'm pretty methodical and tend to take a long time doing pretty much anything I work on.  But there were still hours of work involved no matter who was at the helm.  Add this to the fact that good old fashioned beef stew might be a good substitute, and this might be my last attempt at the Super-meal.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the entire process, though - it was challenging and rewarding to try something this different and this involving.  And now, if Superman ever comes to visit, I've got some practice in at making his favorite meal.


Bo Duke said...

You didn't mention how long it took you to eat it, and everything you eat. It takes you forever!

Jeff Lafferty said...

Sound complicated, but it also sounds good, I might try it!

Jeff said...

Jeff, if you've got a lot of time, then go ahead and give it a try. It's worth it at least once!