December 7: Snowed In!

LifeMason and I spent yesterday snowed in at home. We played just about every video and bored, I mean board game in the house. His favorites are Monopoly and Life. Wonder where he gets that from…
One thing I love about a day at home is that I am able to cook slow dishes that just can’t be done after working all day. They are always impressive to serve, and you can claim to have cooked “all day” when the truth is that they practically cook themselves.
Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the unexpected day at home and make le Boeuf Braisé aux Oignons. Whenever I tell Keith this is what we’re having for dinner, he says “you mean pot roast?”. Yes, technically it is a pot roast but it’s so much more delicious than an ordinary pot roast so it just seems wrong to refer to it by anything other than its French name. Just because it has a fancy French name doesn’t mean it is difficult to do.
If you are going to cook delicious food, you really should have a few key ingredients always on hand. My short list of these key ingredients (other than the obvious things any kitchen should have) are:

  • brandybutter (real butter, nothing else will do)
  • cream
  • lemons
  • garlic (fresh!)
  • beef and chicken stock (canned is fine, bouillon cubes will suffice)

And a properly stocked cooking spirits cabinet containing:

  • dry white wine (chardonnay, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, etc.)
  • hearty red wine (pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, shiraz, etc.)
  • eau-de-vie (I prefer brandy, cognac is a bit pricey)

Use the box wine, it is fine! It’s also very handy to have a small herb garden filled with thyme, rosemary and basil.
Today I am going to share my recipe for le Boeuf Braisé aux Oignons. It is not difficult and doesn’t take that much work to prepare – I promise.
le Boeuf Braisé aux Oignons

  • Bottom Round or Rump Roast (3-5 lb)
  • 9 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 6 oz bacon, diced
  • 1 ½ cups dry white wine
  • ¼ cup brandy (or cognac)
  • 1 ½ cups beef stock
  • 1 large bouquet garni (10 parsley stems, 3 bay leaves, 2 green leek leaves, 12 springs fresh thyme, all tied in cheesecloth)
  • 1-2 onions (or ½ bag of frozen pearl onions)

Pat the beef dry. You should always dry beef before browning! Slice 5 of the garlic cloves into long, thin pieces about ⅛” wide. This is the fun part – with a small paring knife stab holes about ½-¾” deep into the roast, inserting the sliced pieces of garlic in the holes. I insert garlic into all sides of the roast, 1-2″ apart.

In a large dutch oven just large enough to hold the meat, on medium heat lightly brown the bacon. Remove and set aside. If the bacon didn’t yield much grease, add 1-2 tbs of olive oil. Place roast into pan, lightly browning on all sides. It only takes a few minutes to brown each side, no more than 10 minutes for the entire roast.

If you are not using pearl onions remove meat from the pan, thick slice the onions and lightly caramelize in the bacon grease. Return roast to pan (and what’s left of the bacon-who can resist nibbling on it while the meat browns?)

Salt & pepper the beef. Add the wine, brandy, and beef stock. The liquid should cover ⅔ of the meat. You can add more beef stock if necessary. Add remaining garlic cloves and bouquet garni then bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low (but not so low it isn’t simmering), cover pan and cook for at least 4 hours basting occasionally. I flip the meat over a few times during this process to make sure it stays moist on all surfaces.

If you are using pearl onions, about an hour before the meat is done lightly brown them in a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add them to the roast.

Place roast on a platter and slice. With a slotted spoon remove the onions and place on platter with meat. Return the pan to the stove, and reduce the juice by about half on medium high heat. Pour over the meat before serving.

OR you can do what I did tonight because I was in a hurry and put the meat on the plate, whack it into pieces with a knife, and dump everything on top without reducing the sauce. It was fine. No one in my house would know the difference anyway.

Usually you want to avoid a bottom round or rump roasts because they are dense and can be tough, but it is what you need for this recipe. I promise you this roast will practically fall apart when finished. In fact, it will be so tender it doesn’t hurt to tie it with string before cooking.
garlicIf you are not accustomed to working with fresh garlic, don’t be intimidated. It isn’t that hard to use. Despite all of the gizmos marketed for peeling it and such, all you really need is a small paring knife. Separate the cloves from the head, by pushing hard from the bottom with your thumb. I cut off the very top, and with the tip of my paring knife flip the peel off. If it won’t come off easily, I’ll snip off a bit of the bottom too. Just put the knife tip under the peel and it will come off.
garlic1Garlic has a germ that runs through the middle. It gets bigger as the garlic sits around waiting to be used. You don’t want to cook with the germ, it is bitter. Super fresh garlic barely has a visible germ, so if you’re a celebrity TV chef you don’t have to bother. The rest of us regular folk will need to remove it. I cut the garlic clove in half lengthwise, and try to go straight through the center of the germ. With my knife tip, I flip the germ out of the clove. Usually you want to cook with sharp knives, but in this instance I use my very dull old paring knife so I don’t poke my fingers by accident.
pearlPearl onions are great, but in this case frozen is the only way to go. Have you ever tried peeling three dozen tiny pearl onions? Don’t, just don’t. Buy frozen. It’s not cheating, but being smart.
The fabulous thing about this recipe is you get a fancy sounding and tasting dish, with a wee bit of work at the beginning, and get to sit around and knit while it simmers away on the stove. Gotta love that.


  • pharris824

    07.12.2013 at 09:19

    This part is the way I cook… “put the meat on the plate, whack it into pieces with a knife, and dump everything on top”

  • pindy4176

    09.12.2013 at 12:32

    I’m making my menu for this week and next, and Boeuf Braise is definitely going on it. Can’t wait to try it! Where did you develop your love of French cooking?
    P.S. While we’ve been snowbound, I have gotten extra knitting done – making quick work of my remaining gifts – and Caleb has been learning magic tricks with cards. I like The Game of Life, but C isn’t into board games, sigh.