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One of the prized dishes introduced to Americans by Julia Child, this rich beef stew is a French country classic. To this I add that my French co-worker referred to it contemptuously as "food for the old people", claiming that it's been cooked for so long to make the ingredients soft for the toothless that one can hardly taste a thing. This is of course far from truth, but one is always tempted to quote one frenchman's haughty opinions about food. I've cooked the classic Beef Borguignon after watching "Julie & Julia", and was pleased but not impressed. My New Yorker's palate, well versed in asiatic spices and accustomed to contrasting textures, seemed to agree with my co-worker. Next time, I tried a wild variation on the classic recipe with little improvement. However, today I did not work in a heat-drowned kitchen for nothing. It was an easier, tastier, modern Beef Bourguignon... I think.

What you need 
2 lbs stewing beef                        
3 large portabello mushrooms
10+ pearl onions
1 carrot
1/4 yellow onion
2 cups broth
1.5 cups red wine (I used merlot, traditionally should be a wine from Burgundy)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, but you could use rosemary instead
1/2 or 1 poblano pepper
1 bay leaf
8 capricorns
3 Tbsp (unsalted) butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 tsp flour
time: about 3 hours

How to do it:
Before stewing, it is common to fry the meat. I am not sure why this results in more flavorful meat, but it does. I suppose the crust prevents the flavor from simmering out into the sauce. So, cut the meat into 1.5-2" cubes, pat it dry (Julia's trick), and drop into oil heated up in a large pot. Fry on high heat. When the meat just starts to brown, sprinkle in the flour a little bit at a time, stirring continuously. This will not result in the most even of crusts, but it works and is much less complicated than the original technique which involves placing the pot in the oven. Fry the floured meat until nicely golden on all sides, adding chopped up yellow onion in the middle of the frying process. You may need to add a little bit more oil to prevent burning.
Next, pour in the broth and the wine, add a chopped carrot, finely chopped poblano pepper, capricorns, bay leaf, thyme. If the broth is low-sodium, you may need to add some salt to taste. There should be well enough liquid to cover the meat, so add more broth/wine in the same proportion. This will be stewing on low heat for 2.5 hours or until the meat is very tender. The pot is placed in the oven in the original recipe, but this works just as well (and the pot is easier to clean afterwards). The poblano pepper adds just a bit of lively hotness to the sauce.
While the meat is stewing, it is time to prepare the mushrooms and onions. One of the peculiarities of this recipe is that the portobello mushrooms, naturally bold and meat-like in taste, have a prominence equal to the meat. First, melt half of the butter in a skillet and set on high heat. Add onions and continuously roll them around until they've started to brown. Then, add the rest of the butter and the mushrooms chopped in 1.5-2" cubes, just like the meat. The mushrooms will release juice, so the onions should be pretty golden before the mushrooms are added (mistake I realized only later). After mushrooms have fried for 2-3 minutes, sprinkle with a pinch of salt to release yet more juice and stew for 3-4 minutes more.  Then, remove from heat. Pearl onions actually cook very quickly. I see no reason to stew them for 40 minutes.
When the meat is almost done, place the onions and mushrooms into the stew and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes more, maximum. To be diligent about meat consumption, you can sift out the sauce and simmer it in a separate pan, skimming off the fat. However, the unskimmed version is not that bad, either. My variation has much more sauce than the original (where the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon), but I like it this way. The sauce is especially tasty when served with mashed potatoes, but another side may be more appropriate. If the sauce is not thick enough, you may thicken it with a bit of flour (first dissolving it in a small amount of cold water, then slowly pouring in).
I cooked this at mama's house, and heard a few "Mmm..." noises from mama, Alex and, to be honest, from myself, too. Enjoy the taste of (almost) French country!
Tags:    beef challenging French international main course meat mushrooms
Summary: a main course recipe
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