“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.” – Julia Child
So the other night I made Boeuf a la Mode (beef braised in red wine…minus the scoop of ice cream, as the name might have you believe) with Concombres au Beurre (baked cucumbers) and Gnocchi de Pommes de Terre (potato gnocchi). And I feel it’s my duty to warn you ahead of time…cooking this meal wore. me. out. There’s a lot of prep work involved, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.
The meal began with a wine marinade for the beef. In a large bowl, I added sliced carrots, onions and celery, a clove of sliced garlic, and some herbs (thyme, bay leaf, parsley, cloves). I poured in a little bit of olive oil and a LOT bit of red wine – about three cups worth. A dash of brandy and some salt and pepper, and we were in business. I had a beautiful piece of chuck roast from the grocery store, and I set it gently into the marinade and let it sit for over an hour (really, it should be at least 6 hours, but I didn’t have that kind of time and Julia says we can speed things along if necessary. Believe me, it was necessary.)
After awhile, I removed the meat to a rack and let it drain for a bit, then patted it dry with paper towels. Our next step was to give it a nice sear, and that won’t happen if the meat is still damp. In an oven-proof pan I poured a little cooking oil and browned the meat on all sides. I poured the wine marinade into the pan as well, boiling it quickly until it had reduced to half, and then added some beef stock. I simmered this on the stove, then put a lid on the pan and set it in a 350-degree oven for an hour and a half.
On to the side dishes! I started with the cucumbers, which I peeled and halved lengthwise, scooping out the seeds with a spoon. I sliced the cucumbers into thin strips and tossed them in a bowl with a mixture of wine vinegar, salt and sugar. They sat for a half-hour (to absorb all the extra moisture from the veggies) before I drained them and pat them dry. They would go into a baking dish with butter, basil, green onions and pepper and would go into a 375-degree oven for about 30 minutes.
The gnocchi (which is much more fun to say than it is to make) was a bit of a problem child. I started with a few medium sized baking potatoes, peeled and quartered. I boiled them in salted water until they were tender, and then I drained them and ran them through a ricer (which, I have to say, seems unnatural…lets not force the potatoes to be something they’re not!). Meanwhile, I made a batch of Pate a Choux (cream puff paste) which is what will cause our potato gnocchi to swell when it cooks. This paste is made by boiling water with butter, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg, then ¾ cups of flour are dumped in and stirred into the mix, and finally egg yolks are beaten into its center until you’re left with a smooth dough.
The pate a choux is beaten together with shredded Swiss cheese and the riced potatoes, and then you take spoonfuls of the dough, roll them into balls in your hands, and then roll them out on a lightly floured surface until you have made little cylinders that look like packing peanuts. I slipped the gnocchi into a pan of simmering salted water, which Julia warns should never come to a boil, as that will cause the gnocchi to disintegrate. And you know something? Girlfriend knows what she’s talking about. I walked away for a minute…a minute, I tell you!…and when I came back, the water was at a slow boil and my perfect little cylinders were falling apart at the seams. (Note: They do not actually have seams – this is just an expression.)
I tried to salvage some, because after all, the prep work on these was pretty extensive. But it was useless. None of them would puff up and become the little potato treats they were destined to be. The hour was growing late, my stomach was trying to eat itself, and frankly I was pretty exhausted by this point. I gave up on the gnocchi and will have to try them another time. Luckily, I had a few left over that I hadn’t put in the water, so they’ve been waiting patiently in my refrigerator for their moment to shine. Please shine, little gnocchi.
I checked the meat a little early and was surprised to see that it was still a bit tough. Julia says the beauty of this recipe is that you can’t overcook the meat, so I put it back into the oven along with the cucumbers. About 30 minutes later, I took both out of the oven and all seemed right with the world. I moved the meat to a plate (which was hard to do, considering it was falling apart – YUM!) and I strained the juices into a pan through a sieve, mashing the veggies to get all their juices. I brought this to a simmer on the stove and tossed in a little cornstarch to thicken it up a bit. Finally, I added a few cooked carrot slices and onions I had prepared separately and let everything hang out over heat for a bit to blend the flavors together.
Finally, I sliced the meat, which was cooked perfectly, and served it with some of the carrots/onions from the sauce pan, drizzled a little sauce over the top, and added a spoonful of the cucumbers. And just because I could, I poured the leftover red wine from the meat marinade into wine glasses, just enough for a lovely dinner for two. I didn’t have to tell Ben twice that dinner was ready.
The beef was delicious, although I realized quickly I should have used more salt and pepper during the cooking process. The sauce was light and flavorful, and the entrée overall was super hearty and very much like a slow cooker pot roast. I wouldn’t have minded a little Worcestershire sauce on the side, but I think Julia would have been offended. The cucumbers were interesting – light and fresh yet barely crispy and tangy from the vinegar marinade. As Ben pointed out, this would make a great summer side dish to take to a barbecue or a picnic. Simple to make and transport and easy to multiply for a larger group of people, it could be just the thing that bails you out of a party food sign-up list dilemma this summer. (A side note: I don’t see kids being a big fan of this recipe. The tanginess from the vinegar wouldn’t appeal to them, but adults will like it.)
I was disappointed about the gnocchi – not only was it a lot of time and effort to prep, but I was really looking forward to some potatoes with my meat. Oh, well. Now we have something to look forward to at our next meal…right?
The best part about this meal: the meat
The second-best part about this meal: the leftover wine from the marinade
If you’re looking to feed a hungry army this weekend, give this braised beef a try. I can almost guarantee you’ll have a table of happy plates at the end of this meal, and you can get lots done while the meat is cooking in the oven – like get caught up on that giant pile of laundry that’s been giving you the evil eye. See? It’s a win-win!