Julia’s Beef with Onions

Bœuf aux Oignons
I’ve wanted to write about dear Julia Child for a while now. I’ve actually wanted to do a blog each week on people in food I admire (food heroes some would say but that seems decidedly cheesy) but it requires some forethought and planning which I haven’t entirely got around to yet. Instead I will just slot them in as I use their recipes (look out on Friday for Thomas Keller). But back to Julia. We made Bœuf Bourguignon at Easter and it was totally fabulous, ridiculous amounts of work and I swore I would only ever make it for like 6 people and not 20 when I made it again. I love her books. Reading them is quite frankly one of the most entertaining things you can do on a miserable, cold Sunday afternoon. They take you to happy places. I particularly like the sections on vegetables, mainly because I have never considered cooking vegetables the way she does and I went to the cooking school of ‘No Butter, No Taste’. Take, for example, her recipe for Carottes à la Crème (Creamed Carrots). You boil some cream, pour it over the carrots; you then boil the carrots for about 20 minutes until the cream has been entirely absorbed by the carrots. Add some salt and pepper and finally, before serving, stir in some butter and herbs. Cream and butter in rather substantial quantities with my carrots? Yes please! Even regular carrots, braised, are boiled with butter until the water and butter has either been absorbed by the carrots or evaporated. If my mother gave me vegetables like this when I was young I would probably have eaten more of them.
So I love Julia. I love the recipe books and mostly I love the way that things just work. We had beef short ribs in the fridge so I decided it was time to try another recipe of Julia’s, this time from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two. This book has way more pastry sections to it (which is why I have both volumes) and some day I will make real puff pastry according to her recipe. Not today though. Today is reserved for Beef with Onions. For those of you, like me, to whom the measuring system of pounds, ounces and pints is like working out the Holy Grail, you’re in luck. I have spent the afternoon converting the recipe into something understandable in cups, litres and grammes. (You can thank me later.)
Bœuf Aux Oignons*
150g bacon
1.2kg stewing meat (I used short ribs)
3 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
400ml beef/chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
8 cherry tomatoes
400ml red wine
This recipe takes at least an hour of prep time and needs 2-3 hours for cooking so either make it a day ahead or plan your time carefully.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
First, prepare the vegetables. Peel and slice the onions, mash or finely chop the garlic. Tie the bay, parsley and thyme into cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni. (I didn’t have cheesecloth so just chucked these into the pot loose which works fine but requires so hunting at the end to remove the herbs.) Slice the tomatoes into quarters.
Dice the bacon. In a large-ish frying pan, heat some oil (a glug) and fry the bacon until lightly brown. Then put the bacon into a large casserole dish that is ovenproof. 
Whilst the bacon is frying, dry the meat pieces with paper towel.
In the same frying pan, with another glug of oil, brown the meat, in stages if necessary. Tip these into the same casserole with the bacon. Check the pan for burnt fat and discard if necessary. 
Add the onions to the frying pan and fry over a low heat until lightly browned and mostly cooked through. Add extra oil if you need it. 
Whilst the onions are browning, add the garlic, bouquet garni, tomatoes and stock to the pan with the beef.
Once the onions are brown add them to the casserole too. 
Now deglaze the pan (that had the onions in it) with the red wine, allowing the wine to boil for about 2 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any caramelized loveliness the meat or onions has left behind and then pour the wine onto the beef in the casserole dish.
If there is not enough liquid in the casserole to cover the meat, add in some more stock or water. You want the meat to be just covered.
Cover the casserole dish with a lid and place in the oven. Keep an eye on it and baste the meat over the next 2 – 3 hours. The stew is done when you can pierce the beef easily with a knife. Here I just have to quote Julia’s instructions: “slice into it and sample several pieces if you have any doubts.”
Once your stew is cooked, you’ll need to make the sauce.
30g flour
30g butter, soft
Pour the liquid off the stew into a new large pan. Taste and season as necessary, if it is very weak, boil it down rapidly to concentrate the flavour. Mine was very concentrated so I didn’t need to do this. Beat the flour and butter together until smooth (this takes a little time) and add some of the liquid to the beurre manier base. Then pour this mixture back into the main liquid and whisk until smooth. Bring to a simmer and stir whilst simmering for a few minutes. Serve with the stew and what ever vegetables take your fancy at the time.
I used about half the quantity of beurre manier that Julia suggests so if yours doesn’t seem thick enough add some more. If it gets too thick add in some water to loosen it up.
*This is a smaller version than the one described in Mastering as I simply did not have 2kg of short ribs and did not need so much food.