Monday, January 14, 2013

B – Boeuf Bourguignonne

A photograph of Boeuf Bourguignonne
Boeuf Bourguignonne

“As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and perfectly flavoured, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man…”

– Julia Child in ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking

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More photographs and the rest of the post, after the jump.

A photograph of some of the Ingredients for a Boeuf Bourguignonne
Collecting the Ingredients

This week’s entry is one for the meat-eaters – THE beef casserole according to Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. With such an introduction, how could we not try our hands at it?

I have been hankering after this book ever since I saw the movie, ‘Julie & Julia’, which, incidentally, I love – Meryl Streep’s Julia Child is so charming and winsome and the movie just makes one want to up and move to 1940s/50s Paris, enrol in Le Cordon Bleu and get cooking. As we are not time travellers, this is a slightly impractical wish. Happily though, I received the lovely gift of both volumes of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ for my birthday last month and so can proceed with the cooking part. The book is amusingly written (I love a cookbook that draws me back as much for the writing as for the recipes), practical and, despite being one of those old-fashioned cookbooks without any beautiful photographs on glossy paper, manages to be hugely illustrative. At the risk of getting carried away on the writing, here’s another lovely quote – the first sentence of the foreword:

“This is a book for the servantless cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, timetables, children’s meals, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of cooking something wonderful to eat.”
Gold. This book must have been written specifically for us.

A photograph of browning eschallots
Browning eschallots

Anyway, back to our boeuf bourguignonne. I must admit, I began preparing this dish with slight trepidation – I hadn’t done much French cooking before and this was THE beef casserole, after all – it was to be treated and prepared with appropriate respect.  Standing in the kitchen, about to start, I felt like I should have been wearing pearls and a pair of heels instead of my Sunday worst of old shorts and T-shirt.

Despite sounding oh so fancy, this proved to be a remarkably simple dish to cook, though the recipe was quite exacting from a technical perspective. I didn’t really mind this as I learned a few valuable lessons. There were a couple of annoyances – being a book written for Americans, the measurements and oven temperature all needed to be converted and jotted down in the margins, and I suffered the first accident of the Project – forgetting that I had just taken the cast-iron casserole dish out of an oven heated to 230o C, I took hold of the handle to move it to another burner on the stove. Ouch. 

A photograph of mushrooms sautéing  in butter
Mushrooms sautéed in butter

I think this dish is may be the epitome of French food, if, as Julia, Simone and Louisette declare:

“The French are seldom interested in unusual combinations and surprise presentations… the Frenchman takes his greatest pleasure from a well-known dish impeccably cooked and served.”
By these, or indeed any, standards, this is a true classic – beef simmered slowly in a young red wine with onions, garlic and carrot, fragrant with thyme and served with golden sautéed mushrooms and braised eschallots – comfort food at its best. Indeed, it couldn’t have been a better choice for a Sunday evening while a storm raged outside. After three hours of magical reactions in a cast-iron pot, we enjoyed a simple, but beautiful meal with friends, which is, after all, the best way to consume food. We served the boeuf bourguignonne with a side of steamed potatoes (we were intending to sautée them in clarified butter, but as it turns out, there IS such a thing as too much butter, even for us). A nice Shiraz completed the meal. All in all, a lovely end to the weekend and a successful foray into the art of French cooking.

A photograph of Boeuf Bourguignonne

Technical details

From a lighting perspective, the photograph with the ingredients was probably the most complex.  Lighting setup shot below.

 Lighting setup - Some ingredients

The main light was bounced off the ceiling again. I fired the Canon 430 EX II into the ceiling at 1/4th and zoomed to 24mm.

The key light was a Canon 430 EX II fired at 50mm and 1/128. The effect of this light is subtle. The shadows on the right hand side of the carrots were created by this light.

I placed a black foam-core board on the right of camera to prevent the key light bouncing back on to the subject.

For the other photographs, I bounced a single strobe off the ceiling or the walls to create directional light.

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