March 16, 2010


Saturday was the worst weather I've encountered in a while, and, as luck would have it, it was also one of those days I had to spend running around town, taking the Soccer Monster to a middle school entrance exam and dropping the Vegetarian off at her cousins' for the day.

Digression: The middle school process for those New Yorkers living in what is known as a "choice" district is one of the most asinine processes ever encountered on Earth, and if a generation of middle-class New York City kids ends up in extended therapy over it, they should all feel free to send their therapy bills to Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg.

When I finally got home in the late afternoon, dripping and exhausted, I had to put the finishing touches on the stew I was bringing to a friend's stew-off that evening. (Was there ever a better night for eating stew? I don't think so.)

That's my entry shown above. Beef Bourguignon. I wanted to make curry, but there was some contention over whether a curry would be allowed. It was decided that curries should have their own contest. Then I considered the Moroccan lamb stew I cooked for Mr. Coffee's birthday, but I had made it so recently. I don't like making the same things too often.

In the end, I went with the motherlode of stews, French-style beef stew with red wine. I'm a purist at heart, I guess.

Or a wannabe purist, anyway. Like many times when I try to cook simple, classic dishes, I was extremely unhappy with the result. The problems started from the get-go when, due to my pathological inability to stick with a recipe, I decided to combine two that I found.

I started off by marinating the meat with the red wine and some aromatics. I would definitely keep this step, as the meat smelled amazing coming out of the marinade. But then things began to go wrong. I had to add too much flour to coat all the meat, probably because it was too wet from the marinade, even though I attempted to dry it off.

Then I tried cooking it in my pressure cooker, which wouldn't come up to pressure until I added way more liquid than I wanted to. (I think this was due to all the extra flour, which made the liquid too thick to create enough steam.)

The list of problems could go on ad nauseum, but suffice it to say that I almost considered not bringing the stew to the stew-off. However, arriving empty-handed seemed somehow more shameful than arriving with my terrible stew, so I bit the bullet and took it over.

And you know what? It didn't lose. It didn't win either, but it made a respectable showing.

There were only four stews at the contest, and IMHO, the other three were really delicious. Here's a rundown:

The winner: French-style Fish and Seafood Stew
This one looked the most unappetizing in the pot, but in your mouth the flavors popped. The broth was richly fishy in a good way with lots of body and redolent of fennel and Pernod. The seafood was tasty and not overcooked. The overwhelming favorite.

Mussel and Chorizo stew
This was the prettiest of the four stews and if we were going on looks alone, it would have been the clear winner. Mussels were cooked with chorizo, potatoes, carrots and corn in a broth tinged with cream. Like a hearty scrumptious mussel chowder.

The Other Beef Stew
This one was tasty, but honestly even better the next day when I had my doggie bag of it for dinner. This was more like what I had been after in my stew—a clean, bright, winey broth with tender meat and vegetables. 

I doubt I'll be making beef bourguignon again anytime soon. In the end, I was brought back to a realization I apparently have to keep making every few years: classic French cooking is not for me. I don't think I have the right DNA.

It's like when I was a teen and I tried wearing add-a-pearl necklaces and argyle sweaters. (Am I dating myself?) Preppy-blond-girl clothes on a swarthy HinJew? Not a good fit.

Next time I'll make something spicy that fits much better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I made BB a la Julia Child, it took me a whole day just to make the beef broth!!! Found that Hungarian beef with paprika was easier and tastier.

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