Friday, January 24, 2014

Boeuf bouilli

Over the years I've more than once made the mistake of getting stern with my cookbooks. If a big one provides me with only one or two recipes that I find useful -- as if that's the cookbook's fault! -- I give them away. I have given away a few whose absence I now regret. Thank heaven for eBay.

One of the big ones I unhappily dumped long ago is James Beard's New York Times Cookbook. In it, I recall a recipe for boeuf bouilli, boiled beef, a dish Beard described as very often the one thing that a man with a sophisticated palate wants to return to when he grows surfeited with elegant ragoos. It is basically a pot roast in which one does not first sear the meat to give it a brown color. Luckily, I found what seems a recipe of Beard-worthy authenticity in The American Heritage Cookbook, published in 1964. The editors there claim that this version comes from Etienne Lemaire, "Jefferson's steward in Washington."

Boeuf bouilli is exceedingly simple. In a heavy kettle, place 4 to 5 pounds lean beef, 1 large onion stuck with 6 cloves -- sometimes they crumble as you poke them in -- 3 carrots cut in chunks, 3 or 4 stalks celery, also cut in chunks, 1 turnip, quartered, 1 parsnip, cut in chunks, a handful of parsley, and 4 to 5 peppercorns. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes. Skim off the froth, and add 1 Tablespoon of salt. Cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Bouef bouilli comes out lacking a seared pot roast's good color and gravy, but occasionally the simplicity is worth it. First, enjoy the broth, plain and flavorful; then, serve the meat and vegetables on a platter, with commercial horseradish or the more authentic Horseradish Sauce alongside.

Horseradish Sauce

Mix 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard with 1 Tablespoon cold water to make a smooth paste. Combine this with 6 Tablespoons freshly grated horseradish, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let this stand 10 minutes. Then, fold it into 1/2 cup heavy cream which you have already whipped.

Potatoes and cabbage are a nice accompaniment to this, either cooked right in with the beef or prepared separately, perhaps as Colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage, previously sauteed in butter, stirred into them). The wine of choice with all this elegant simplicity, I think, would be an elegantly simple chardonnay -- Jefferson might have called it a Montrachet -- or, why not? Champagne.

And from M. Lemaire the steward's perspective, one more good thing about boeuf bouilli is that any leftover meat and broth can help flesh out a tomato sauce for spaghetti later in the week. With that, you'll want a nice Chianti.

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