Many of you know that my Mother-in-Law lost her battle with cancer a little over one month ago. It’s an understatement to say that Sherry Barger loved life and lived life to the fullest. The best way to describe her is to say she was truly a renaissance woman. She was an avid traveler, a master gardener, the ultimate community volunteer, a trivia savant and one of the most creative home cooks I’ve ever known. Last spring, I took her to one of her chemo treatments, which often took awhile as she received infusions into a port in her head. She had to lay still for 30 minutes after the infusion and we always enjoyed some calm, peaceful conversation during those moments. She told me time and time again how proud she was that I developed such a passion for cooking. So I asked her during one of these sessions if she remembered when she learned to cook. She said, in her customary beginning to every response, “Why sure I do!” She went on, “One summer when I was a young teenager, Mother (referring to her Mother who she always referred to simply as Mother as opposed to my Mother) told Diane (her older sister) and me that she wasn’t going to cook all summer and that it would be our responsibility to prepare the meals.” My eyebrows rose up and I said, “Are you serious? She just left it to you and Aunt Di?” Sherry responded with a wide smile and her eyes glared off to the side for a minute as if she was looking into the past, “It was great fun,” she said, “Diane and I just figured it out!” “We found recipes, and did the grocery shopping and taught ourselves how to cook — exactly what Mother had intended.” I love the thought of two sisters fumbling their way through the kitchen one hot summer in the late 1950s.
I have been part of the Barger family for almost 18 years now. Sherry knew how to cook just about anything; lamb, duck, lobster….all sorts of unique vegetables and she had mastered all sorts of techniques. She could turn just about anything that was in her fridge into a very good meal and she was known for never wanting to throw away a darn thing (“never waste” — which was one of the first lessons in my French Cooking Class). Stale bread becomes breadcrumbs, egg whites become meringues and moldy cheese….well, you just cut the moldy part off and keep on eating (this one never quite sat right with my sister-in-law and me). Nonetheless, Sherry was an outstanding cook! When other moms were making Chicken Thighs, Sherry was making Coq Au Vin; when other Moms were making Beef Stew, Sherry was making Beef Bourguinon. I knew we would get to Beef Bourguinon eventually in my French cooking class, but it was a pleasant surprise to walk into my class three days after Sherry passed and see it on our list of recipes for the day. It brought a tear to my eye and I like to think that it was a little sign from her telling me that she was okay and to carry on her passion for good cooking.
I cooked this recipe for my family a few weeks later and my husband and I told the girls that this was a classic Grammy dish. They loved it! I’m not sure which Beef Bourguignon recipe Sherry followed, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a version of this one from the great French Chef, Jacques Pepin. I, along with The Seasoned Farmhouse, have altered Pepin’s recipe a bit but it is essentially the same classic French Beef Bourguignon. Cooking the vegetables separately at the end instead of stewing them with the beef creates a nice vibrant garniture to the beef. The vegetables maintain their own individual flavor and texture and compliment the beef. This is classic French comfort food — thank you Julia Child for bringing this into our American culinary lexicon now and forever.
*A recipe for homemade egg noodles will be posted soon and is the perfect base for this Beef Bourguignon.
Beef Bourguignon (Serves 4-6)
2 – 3 lb English Boneless Shoulder Roast (about 1/2 lb per person)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 T finely chopped garlic
1 large carrot, cut in coins
1 Tbsp flour
3/4 bottle of red wine (treat yourself to the rest while you cook!)
1/4 cup good quality beef stock or prepared demi glaze)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 of a 16 oz. bag frozen pearl onions, thawed
20 cremini mushrooms, cut in fourths
3-4 carrots, coined
3 slices of bacon cut in lardons (1/2 in thick pieces)
dash of sugar
fresh parsley, chopped
Cut the meat into 1 inch pieces (do not cut the fat off — you can skim it off later). Season meat with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large cast iron enamel pot heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil. When oil is hot enough, arrange the meat in one layer in the pot, without crowding; brown the meat on all sides (this can take up to 8 minutes or so). Repeat, in batches, with the rest of the meat. When all meat is browned and removed from the pot, deglaze the pot with a little brandy or red wine scraping on the browned bits. Add onion, garlic and carrot and cook over moderate heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flour and mix in well so that the flour doesn’t form lumps. Stir in the red wine and beef broth. Add bay leaves, fresh thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Put meat back into pot (the liquid should cover the meat — if not, add a little more red wine). Stir well and cover with lid. Place the pot in the oven and continue to cook for about 1 1/2 hours; the meat should be soft and tender and the liquid properly reduced. [This recipe can be prepared to this point up to a day ahead — when I last cooked this recipe, I made this part in the morning, refrigerated it and then finished the garnitures in the evening just prior to dinner while I reheated the beef].
For the garnitures, thaw the pearl onions, wash and quarter the mushrooms, peel and slice the carrots. It may take a few pans, but it’s worth it to cook these vegetables separately so they maintain their own beautiful color and flavor. Cut the bacon into lardons and pan fry; set aside. Cook the carrots in a pot of well salted boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes. In sauté pan, cook the pearl onions with a pat of butter and a pinch of sugar to caramelize. Remove. In same sauté pan, cook the mushrooms in a pat of butter. When each of these items is finished you can add them to the same large bowl.
Serve a helping of the beef with sauce over rice, potatoes or *noodles (recipe for Homemade Egg Noodles coming soon on The Common Plate) and top with a spoonful of the mixed garnitures (bacon, pearl onions, carrots and mushrooms) and top with fresh parsley.
Adapted from Jaques Pepin’s Beef Bourguignon