I’m not even going to check the date of my last blog. “Keep moving forward!” as my favorite movie characters “The Robinsons” say! So. Here. We. Are. This past spring break, the fam took off for an extended trip to Paris.
Our son Ken made plans to visit with two friends: Lexi, a very good friend of his from his first two years in private school, and Addie, a girl he met during last summer’s music pre-college at Carnegie Mellon. We hardly saw him except for dinner and a few pre-booked tours. 16 going on 26…
Kurt and I are trèèèèès agréables travel partners: sight-see a little, eat a lot, and become one with the locals as much as possible. Our last vacation to Europe was several years ago; at the time my polyglot sister Tina was our Italian mouthpiece. We stayed in an 18th century villa in Tuscany. Marvelous. This time around, the onus was on me. It had been decades since I lived in France, but I figured my fluency would return and I would “Fake it till you make it.”
We rented a three bedroom apartment in the St-Germain-des-Prés area with high ceilings, elaborate moldings and two fireplaces. Large, windowed French doors opened onto tiny balconies overlooking the street below. WE LOVED IT!
As for our culinary experience, indulge is an understatement. I researched restaurants from local joints to bargain places. I asked friends for recommendations. We tried different baguettes (our favorite was Gosselin‘s with their shop just a block away from our apartment), steak frites, croque madame on Poilâne bread, Paris Brest from La Pâtisserie des Rêves, Jacques Génin caramels and fruit jellies. Thank God we walked A LOT.
Upon our return home, I decided I wanted to recreate some of the dishes for my mommy dinner group since we hadn’t met in a while. I settled on a classic beef daube that Kurt and I ordered at a local spot– as in we were the only English-speakers there. (As much French cooking as I’ve done, I didn’t know what some of the items were)!
It’s amazing what a slow braise can do to a cheap chuck roast. OH MY GOD! Macaroni was the carb du jour, and it quickly soaked up the sauce– rich, multilayers of flavors, the result of a long marinade in red wine and stock vegetables.
My ladies loved it, so I’ve finally made it again so I could post the recipe and how I made it. The original recipe is supposedly from Julia Child, but it does not mesh with the recipe in her eponymous, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but perhaps is from another book. Like German sauerbraten, this is a multi-day dish (though not the 3 days needed to properly marinate beef for sauerbraten); you’ll need one day to marinate the beef and vegetables overnight and a second to let the daube sit in the fridge after its oven braise to meld the flavors. (I also scrape any excess fat from the surface once it’s been refrigerated). I serve it with macaroni exactly as we had it in Paris, but you can substitute rice or other noodles.
for the spice packet:
- 1 square of doubled cheesecloth to fit the following–
- 1 3-inch stick of cinnamon
- 3-4 sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 4-6 sprigs Italian flat leaf parsley
- 3 whole cloves
- top leaves from a celery stalk (remaining to be used later)
for the stew and marinade:
- 1 stalk celery
- 3-4 carrots
- 3 medium yellow onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 8 oz bacon
- 1 beef chuck roast (anywhere from 3-5 lbs)
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1/4 cup cognac
- 1 orange, for the peel
for assembling and cooking the daube:
- large Dutch oven (like Le Creuset, etc.)
- olive oil for browning beef
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- 1 TB tomato paste
- 1 cup Nicoise olives, pitted
- 3/4 cup beef stock
- 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
- 1/4 c chopped Italian parsley for garnish
Here are the players; I forgot a few, but they’ll appear later:
Let’s do the vegetable prep first:
I just scrub the carrots, trim the ends and slice into 1/2-inch pieces. Plop them into a large container with a cover; it needs to be big enough to hold all the ingredients plus the wine! Do the same with the celery stalk.
The onions should be sliced no thick than 1/4-inch; I try to go for 1/8 inch so they just melt into the daube. To prep the onions, I slice off both ends then cut the onion in half lengthwise and peel. I cut thinly from one end to midway, then turn the onion and cut from the other end; I get more consistent slices this way rather than continuing to slice along to the other end. Add onions to the container.
For garlic, I smash each clove under my knife (it’s wide enough); breaking the skin releases a chemical which makes the clove very easy to peel. Then I slice thinly. To mince, I hold down the tip of my knife and rock the blade with the handle end, along the garlic slices until I get the size I want. Add the garlic to the container.
Now for the bacon. My bacon comes in 12 oz. packages, so I cut off 1/3 and save it for later. Slice the bacon into 1-inch pieces and separate so the pieces don’t stick together in the marinade.
And last but not least, the BEEF. I buy chuck roast in club packs, so I usually have some in my freezer. Jacques Pepin’s pot roast, Hungarian goulash, Filipino caldereta, German sauerbraten…
You want fairly decent chunks, about 1 1/2 inch cubes. I start by trimming any weird silver skin, then slice the roast into long pieces, finally cutting each strip into cubes.
Everything should be in the container!
It’s time to tie up the spices. Lay out the cheesecloth and start piling up the spices.
Add the thyme and parsley, twist up the ends and tie opposite corners together. Before I add the spice bundle, I mix the meat and vegetables with my hands. I think this is easier than using a spoon or spatula. Snuggle the bundle among the meat and vegetables.
Now for one of the ingredients I left out in my first photo: ORANGE! What a subtle flavor component to this dish; Kurt really loves this. You need to use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to slice three pieces of zest (no white pith!), roughly 1-inch wide and 3 inches long. Poke these slices between the meat and vegetables.
Add the cognac and wine. Again, I use my hands and fingers to ensure the meat and vegetables are initially covered with the liquids. It’s messy, but I know that the marinade touched everything!
Cover and let sit in your refrigerator overnight. That’s it for Day 1. Stay tuned for Day 2!