“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ~Julia Child
You know what Meryl Streep movie I love? Julie & Julia! You know the movie, right? Meryl Streep plates up an amazing performance as the queen of cooking, Julia Child. And Amy Adams is Julie Powell, a struggling New York writer who challenges herself to complete a 365-day cook-off covering every recipe in Julia Child’s famous cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking? If you are a blogger, I am sure you know the movie because it centers around the idea of using blogging to create self-growth and potentially a little income. Right?
Anyway, who can forget the scene where Julie Powell cooks boeuf bourguignon. Editor Judith Jones, credited for greatly assisting in the publication of Julia Child’s cookbook, is scheduled to be Julie Powell’s guest for the evening. Powell decides she will cook the exact same dish Jones’ first cooked when she was testing out the cookbook, boeuf bourguignon. As Powell narrates the story of Jones and Child meeting, we watch her order beautiful beef cuts from her local butcher and lightly brown them in a silver pan. Powell fills a heavy ceramic dutch oven with brightly colored vegetables and pours a bottle of red wine over the meat and vegetables. The dutch oven sizzles and steams. Every time I watch that scene, I immediately want to make boeuf bourguignon. The colors and the sounds and textures just make me so hungry! I can’t be the first person who watched that movie and then tried making boeuf bourguignon. I know for a fact I am not, because my brother-in-law did just that.
Powell’s bourguignon actually ends in disaster. She falls asleep on the couch and misses her alarm. The dish is charred black and completely inedible. And to top everything off, Judith Jones cancels her meeting with Powell. It is a tragic end for Powell’s bourguignon. However, when I decided to make bourguignon I used venison, and the result was anything but tragic!
If you want the most flavor possible from this dish, and trust me you do, the meat needs to marinade over night in a bath of vegetables and red wine. First, cut your venison into bite size chunks. Since the meat shrinks down a bit during the cooking process, I tend to make my bites oversized. Add your meat cuts to a large bowl with a large quartered onion, a few stalks of celery and carrots, chopped into fairly large pieces, whole cloves of garlic smashed, and a couple bay leaves. Pour in an entire bottle of red wine. You can use whatever type of red wine you would like, but I like the light-bodied somewhat fruity and floral pinot noir. Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight in the fridge. When you are ready to start cooking, pull out your meat and strain the wine marinade through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid because you will add it back into the dish, and discard the vegetables.
Dust the meat with flour, just a light coating, and start heating a heavy bottomed ceramic dutch oven. You want the pot to be decent sized because this will be the only dish used for the entire meal. In the dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and start frying the meat. You might have to do a couple batches. You don’t want to overcrowd the pot. You want the meat to develop a nice light brown coating and if you do too many pieces of meat at one time the oil will drop in temperature. You will end up with steamed meat instead of browned. The meat only needs to cook for a few minutes per side.
Next, dice up a few slices of bacon and cook them in the dutch oven. There is no need to drain the drippings from browned meat. It only adds more flavor to the dish. Once the bacon is crispy, drop in carrots, celery, and pearl onions. Season with salt and pepper and allow the vegetables to soften for about 8 to 10 minutes. Add in some minced garlic and tomato paste. Cook for an additional two or three minutes.
Remember that wine marinade you reserved? It is time to add it back to the pot. Pour in about two cups of the reserved wine. Add in the browned venison and bring the pot to a very light boil, almost more of a simmer. Allow the liquid to reduce by half and then add in your beef stock, a few bay leaves, and some fresh thyme. Bring the pot back to a boil before you cover it and toss that baby in a 350 degree oven.
Set your timer for two hours, and try not to fall asleep like Julie Powell did. At the two hour mark, add in your diced potatoes and mushrooms. Cook for an additional thirty minutes.
The process is definitely a long one, but this meal is worth the wait and the effort. The flavors are very deep and rich, and even with all that depth of flavor the venison is still able to shine as the star of the show. Well, in the words of Julia Child: “Bon appetit!”