Boeuf Bourguignon - Detail - © Emma Christensen

Sunday Musings: You Don’t Need Recipes To Cook Well!

Imagine just stepping up to the stove, grabbing a pan or two and starting to cook. What? you say. Where’s the recipe? What am I supposed to cook? How am I supposed to do it? Relax. I’m here to tell you that, if you have the skills and ingredients, and an inspiration, you don’t need recipes…

Boeuf Bourguignon - © thecookierookie.comBoeuf Bourguignon: The classic way, with pearl onions, button mushrooms and mashed potatoes…

What do you want to make for supper tonight? Let’s say, Boeuf Bourguignon.

OMG! you cry. I know I have the meat and veggies I need in the house but where’s that recipe? You can always use site search here at the Fab Food Blog to pull up a recipe – if you want to. But why not just go ahead and make it? After all, ‘Boeuf Bourguignon’ is simply a fancy French name for Beef Stew with Red Wine and Veggies…

Start with the meat

No less an authority than Julia Child insists you sizzle some small-diced bacon bits in the bottom of the pan with a little oil before adding the meat. This is entirely to add flavour. If you have bacon on hand, go ahead. But by the time you’re finished, you won’t miss it if you decide to skip it. Only a French chef with a really delicate palate would detect the omission.

This is a great way to dress up leftover roast beef or steak. Since the meat is already cooked, you don’t want to sear it again to produce al kinds of yummy beef flavours in the bottom of the pan. You’d be making cardboard. Instead of going through the traditional searing and de-glazing process, just add nice half cup or so of beef stock (boxed, from the store is just fine) to a pan on medium heat and toss in the beef, which you’ve cubed in bite-sized pieces (about 1/3 in. / 2 cm). There. You have the beefy flavour you want want, and the meat is already simmering toward fall-apart tenderness.

Add your herbs. Fresh is always best, but dried will work just fine. Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme and a Bay Leaf – the traditional constituents of the French Bouquet Garni.

Segue to the veggies

No pearl onions? Just cut a regular onion in quarters and add to the pan. The flavour will be the same, even if the appearance of your dish is a little different. No button mushrooms? Just quarter any small mushrooms you have on hand. White mushrooms are traditional, but creminis would be just as good – maybe nicer! Dice a medium carrot into roughly 3/4 in. / 2 cm chunks. Don’t get fussy, unless you love to see perfect carrot coins in your stews. It’s up to you. Toss the veggies into the pan and let em simmer and steam for 15 to 20 minutes.

This may be the time to add more beef stock. Don’t let the pan go dry! A couple of cups / half a litre should be plenty, if not too much. Just add as needed. And remember, you’re adding more liquid later.

Prepare a premium starch side

Let the meat and veggies go, covered on med-low heat, then peel, simmer and mash a couple of medium-sized (or one large) snowy-white potatoes. The variety of potato is up to you. Use whatever you have on hand. Just cook long enough to ensure they will mash smoothly. When drained and mashed, add a couple of tablespoons / 30 ml butter and a slosh / 30-40 ml of cream or milk, and whisk to a luscious smoothness. I’ve also added yogurt or sour cream in place of cream in a number of recipes and the result has always been delicious!

When the liquid level gets low in the pan again, add a good cup / 250 ml of Red Wine. Burgundy is traditional, of course, but any hearty Red will do. Add more if you want. you’ll just want to simmer the stew a little longer to concentrate the liquid to ideal deliciousness.

Thicken the stew

Twenty minutes or so before serving, mix up a small amount of flour in cold water to create a slurry. Make sure all the flour is dissolved in the water. Then add to the pan stirring constantly until the slurry is all mixed in and the sauce starts to form. This is a little like making pan gravy, but we use the slurry to ensure that the sauce doesn’t come out lumpy.

Leave to simmer gently on low until you’re ready to serve.

Finally, just before serving over the mashed potatoes, taste the stew for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.

There! Wasn’t that easy?

You’ll have your dinner companion wondering if they’ve forgotten an anniversary, or something! You did it without a recipe – just using the skills and experience you already have as a competent home cook. And now, you know you can do it with any dish! Pour a glass of the leftover Red. Congratulate yourself.

And muse on that…

~ Maggie J.