Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Whisk Wednesdays—Éstouffade de Boeuf Provençale (Braised Beef Casserole, Provence Style)

Éstouffade de Boeuf Provençale (Braised Beef Casserole, Provence Style)Éstouffade (Es-too-fahd) de Boeuf Provençale or Pot Roast. Which sounds better? The French have a flair for making food sound fancy and delicious. And this dish doesn't just sound delicious, it is delicious.

Éstouffade is a beef stew simmered slowly in a covered casserole dish. The technique is braising, where your goal as "Chef" is to take a cheap, tough cut of meat and make it tender and tasty. Unlike stewing which uses small chunks of meat, braising usually uses a large cut of meat. Turning a hunk of meat into a tender morsel is a bit of magic and science.

A Demo
A few years ago, I attended a demo at Le Cordon Bleu in Basic Cuisine, and it was this class #16 " Les Braisages (Braising)". I casually walked into the classroom before it began, as I have often done for other classes. I and another visitor both found a spot to sit and watched the Chef prepare for the class. I was wondering why the students milling about in the hallway outside weren't coming in, but I realized that at precisely 8:15 a.m., they were allowed to enter and find their seats. Of course, they all addressed the Chef as "Chef" with a capital "C". "Yes, Chef" and "Excuse me, Chef" were heard throughout the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed being a fly on the wall during this demo class. I've enjoyed looking over my notes from that class {after finding them buried under a huge pile of recipes yet to try].

The recipes covered that day were

Boeuf à la mode (Pot-roast)
Carré de porc braisé nivernaise (Braised pork rack with carrots, onions, potatoes and lettuce)
Navarin d'agneau printanier (Braised lamb shoulder stew)

As the Chef prepared the dishes, he talked easily about how lamb is fed, how long it takes to grow a chicken, the use of steroids and antibiotics in poultry, the benefits of organic meat, and occasionally quizzed the students about terminology.

As he was explaining how to butcher meat and the benefits of doing it by hand in your own kitchen, one student bravely asked why he couldn't go to the butcher and buy it already cut. The steely eyes and frustrated tone of the Chef answered him quickly, saying that a chef must be able to do all the food preparation.
"A good chef is worth ten doctors. In Napoleon's army, every captain was a chef."
– So Said the Chef at Le Cordon Bleu that day
Choose the Meat
The meat you select for braising should be one of the leaner, tougher cuts, such as shoulder, shank or chuck. {Save your tenderloin for the grill!} Also, the shank adds more gelatin to the mix so the sauce is thicker at the end of the cooking process.

Beef Cuts
Fatten the Cow
Pork fatback is NOT bacon. I learned this the hard way. I used bacon. It's what I had in the refrigerator. I didn't have pork fatback. I should have gone to a butcher, I know. The bacon added too much flavor to this dish. Go get yourself some fatback, ya hear?

According to Chef, bacon has lots of water in it, shrinks more, and leaves more fat in the pan. {And an over-powering bacon flavor!}

Ok, so if you can't get any fatback, the next best thing is salt pork. It's not bacon either. Even if you get this salt pork, you must blanch it for 10 minutes, rinse, dry {repeat?} to remove all the extra salt they use to cure it.

Before using fatback in the beef, the Chef at the demo class said to marinate the fatback in cognac for 10 minutes. {I wish I'd found my notes before making this!}

Then, you cut the fatback into strips so that you can insert this fat into the lean cut of meat you're about to braise. {Sounds like cheating to me. Or, a better cheat might be to buy a well-marbled piece of meat.} The fat helps to keep the meat from drying out.

Peter Hertzmann has a great article about Boeuf à la mode where he also demonstrates his larding technique and in the end discusses whether or not larding was worthwhile.

After adding fat to the lean cut of meat, it gets marinated {for up to 24 hours, if you can, for best flavor}.

The marinade has the usual suspects: onions, carrots and a Bouquet Garni. Tomatoes, garlic, red wine, olive oil and cognac round it out. {You're supposed to turn the meat after 12 hours. Oops. Forgot to do that.}

Now, it's time to braise. This is a brown braise, where food is browned first (seared) and then dark ingredients, such as red wine, are added.

After straining the marinade in a bowl and setting it aside for later, pat the beef dry so that it can sear. When you sauté the beef, you can add a bit of butter with the oil for extra flavor. Searing caramelizes the outside of the beef and adds more flavor. After it's seared {not burnt!}, drain the fat and set the meat aside to rest. Fry up some bacon. {This time you can use bacon as we all know and love it.} Add the vegetables from the marinade and cook them off until golden. Sprinkle some flour on this mixture and cook for a bit to remove the flour taste. The flour will help thicken the sauce at the end. Then add the strained juice from the marinade — -it's purple! This helps deglaze the pan and pick up all those {burned} bits from the bottom of the pan, called fond.
"…[fond] represents a portion of the essential principles of the roast
fallen from it in the process of cooking."
— Escoffier
Add the meat back into the pan, the tomatoes, the Bouquet Garni, and a bit of salt. The liquid should cover 1/3 of the meat. Add more water if it doesn't meet this stringent braising requirement. Add the vegetables from the marinade back to the pot. Bring to a simmer and then put it in the oven, covered, to finish, slowly. Don't let it boil. The liquid and steam cook the meat slowly until it's very tender. If it's cooked too fast, it will be dry and tough.

I found this great article and this one about braising.

Thicken {or Reduce} the Sauce
"Reduce over medium heat until the sauce thickens slightly."
— from the recipe for Éstouffade de Boeuf Provençale (Braised Beef Casserole, Provence Style)
After taking the meat out and putting it aside to rest a spell, reduce the sauce. As you reduce, you should skim away any fat that comes to the surface. Reducing sounds easy, but I always have trouble with this step — not the skimming but the thickening part. I have to resist the urge to quickly make a roux to thicken the juices. I thought I reduced it enough, but my sauce was runny. Back to the stove to reduce it further, I went {the next day}. After reading these tips, I was prepared to dig out my potato flour to thicken it slightly.

The recipe says to add olives to the sauce {but I didn't}.

Watch a pro

Éstouffade de Boeuf Provençale (Braised Beef Casserole, Provence Style) mise en placeYou can find the recipe for Éstouffade de Boeuf Provençale (Braised Beef Casserole, Provence Style) in the book Le Cordon Bleu at Home. To see how the rest of the Whisk Wednesdays group fared with this week's recipe, click here (or check out the sidebar) and then click on each blogger!

Purple Marinade
The marinade is PURPLE!

Tasting Notes
I made some {well, many} mistakes on this seemingly, easy pot roast. Too bacon-y. Too over-cooked. Sauce was runny. But, everyone enjoyed it, even so, and it was even better the next day. {No anchovies this week! Yay} Next time, I'll try Harold McGee's tip to use a cooler oven (200˚F for the first two hours and then 250˚F for the last hour). I'll also check my butcher for fatback. And, I'll spend more time reducing the sauce. And maybe I'll ask for a Moroccon Tagine for Christmas! That should definitely help!

Next Week (September 24)
• Blanquette de Veau à l’Ancienne (White Veal Stew with Onions and Mushrooms) page 55-56

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $752.74 + $21.00 (beef) + $6.46 (marinade) + $4.48 (finishing) = $784.68

Butter used so far: 7 pounds, 27 tablespoons


Natalie Que said...

Oh my gosh, first timer here and I think I'm in love! Your pictures are stunning! My mouth is watering, I love braised meat! This looks about like the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth.

I love all of the information, and wow, just one of life's dream here to attend a course at LCB! -They have one here, I am going to try to attend one of the 10 week courses next year.

I think I will scan through my photos from last month and see if I have any DMBLGT ready too!

Thanks Shari, I will be back for a second helping!

Anonymous said...

I'm jealous Shari! This is as close as I'm likely to ever get to LCB! Your post is informative!

We really enjoyed this dish, and the whole mouth-watering experience of waiting for it to cook! The house smelled simply marvelous for about 4 hours all told! Yes, it was a bit more time consuming, but I'd do it again, and again. Now...if I can only find someone within 50 miles who sells VEAL!! See you next week!

NKP said...

I love the photos, I forgot to take a pic before we carved.
We didn't find fatback so I just left the fat on the roast.
The recipe says turn oven to 375 so I assumed it cooked in the oven but the temp was too high. I turned down to 350 but I think 300 would have been better.
For the marinade we used a large freezer bag inside a 8 cup measuring glass, a la Rob Rainford, this kept the marinade in contact with the whole roast.
Mine was a bit overcooked after 3 hours, I think, but still very tender and flavourful. I'll add it to next week's post.
I love your write up, I am too chicken to be a part of the militant pro-chef arena.

Anonymous said...

Holy cow! What a lesson!! That was a serious amount of info there. Thanks!!

PheMom said...

This is one of my most favorite kinds of meals! That looks so fantastic!!!

Anonymous said...

Estoufade or otherwise, that is a cracking piece of meat.

Nice photos too.

Thanks for the cow diagram, btw. Visual aids are so helpful, lol. :-)

Michelle said...

I have a tagine, in fact 2, and I love braising in raw clay...things just taste so much better! I would recommend getting a real tagine and not one that is metal or glazed.

Note: These are only for oven braising and not for stove top cooking.

Both of the above tagines are excellent. I have the Ourika but I see now it is out of stock. But it usually is not long before they will get a shipment. But the Rifi is an excellent tagine too.

Anonymous said...

extremely impressive, as always.

i passed an award along to you over at my blog. :)

Chibog in Chief said...

OMG Shari, you just made my day!! we have a terrible weather here..watching your post put a smile on my face and lots of delicious imagination in my head!! hehehe

ps, yay you are hosting dmblgit!!i'll be sending soon my entry :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow - it really looks gorgeous (and delicious!). I've never made a pot roast before. Hmm, I wonder where I'd be able to track down some fatback! Love the pictures.

Kajal@aapplemint said...

How i envy for ... i would love to go to LCB ! BTW this is a gr8 post, explaining all the different cuts of meat and a detailed procedure to make this yum casserole. Thanks for sharing !

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

I love the educational cow picture. That might sound like a joke but it's not - it's great whenever food writers take the time out to explain things.

Shari said...

hot garlic - I'm glad you found my blog, and I hope you do come back! One of my dreams is LCB too, but this is as close as I may get.

cantbelieveweate (Glennis) - Although it was a bit of work, for the most part I found the oven did the work and the wafts of braised meat throughout the house were wonderful. I have to get some veal today. Is tomorrow Wednesday already?!?!?

natashya - I think you're right. 300 would be so much better for this. I turned my oven down cause I noticed it boiling and didn't want that.

eb - I'm enjoying the research angle of this project (as you can probably tell!).

phemom (Holly) - This is a great recipe. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out!

gkbloodsugar (Graeme) - It was crackin'! I wish I could take full credit for that picture of the cow ;).

michelle - Thanks for the tips about what tagine to buy...I mean put on my Christmas wish list!

karen - You're a sweetie! Thanks so much!

dhanggit - It's a great recipe for a chilly Fall day!

carmen - This is straight-forward recipe! Give it a go and let me know how it goes!

kate - Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. LCB would be amazing to go to, but...

scott - Thanks for your ocmment. I was beginning to feel insecure about including it! ;)

Thanks so much everyone for stopping by and leaving a comment! I really appreciate that you take the time!!