I decided to make boeuf bourguignon today. It’s a stew, right? How hard can it be?
The first instruction says “Try salt pork.” Okay, I’m Jewish and I’ve never even seen salt pork on the hoof, so to speak, but I’ll try it. I buy some salt pork. There are two kinds, so I grab the one that’s all white. I figure that’s the best.
The recipe calls for “thinly sliced” salt pork. The salt pork comes in thin slabs, so I guess that’s what they mean. I’m supposed to put it in a pan and saute some onions in it. Then I’m supposed to remove the pork and the onions.
I throw the salt pork slabs into the pan, but something doesn’t look right. It’s mostly just sitting there, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to be sauteing any onions soon. Maybe it’s supposed to be sliced into strips, so it will melt faster? I take it out and try to slice it, and my knife just bounces off. It slowly dawns on me that “Try salt pork” might not mean what I thought it did, but I can’t find anything in the index of “The Joy of Cooking” or “Fanny Farmer.” I scrub the pork fat off my hands and take to the keyboard, where I eventually find out that “try” is an old term for “render.”
Well, I’m not Caesar, but I know that you aren’t going to have much left if you render pure lard except for that layer of whatever it is that my knife couldn’t dent — pigskin, maybe? I decide to throw that nasty stuff away and use the three tablespoons of butter that the recipe suggested as an alternative. Unfortunately, I don’t realize that the salt part of salt pork is lingering in the pot. That becomes obvious at dinner time.
Okay, I saute my cooking onions in butter and put them aside. Now it’s time to saute the mushrooms. I’m a lazy cook. I always buy the pre-washed, pre-sliced mushrooms; but they don’t have them. Instead they’re having a sale on whole mushrooms. I’ll just have to slice them myself.
I start to slice the mushrooms and I ask myself “Why is there mud on my cutting board”? Apparently these particular mushrooms were not washed. I pitch out the few I’ve already sliced and wash the rest. At least that’s going to be okay.
The mushrooms being washed, sliced, and sautéed I open the package of beef. The chunks are way too big; they have to be cut up. My chef’s knife, the same one that wouldn’t cut the salt pork, has trouble with the beef, too. I usually sharpen it before I use it, but …
The meat is now ripped into smallish chunks and browning nicely, so it’s time to get the wine ready. For some reason you can’t just buy a bottle of burgundy these days. The only “burgundy” they have at the liquor warehouse comes pre-wrapped in a brown paper bag, so I pick up another dry red.
The recipe says to use three parts wine to one part water. You can guess what happens next. I pitch the stuff and start over, happy that I decided to buy a big bottle. I’m supposed to have enough liquid to cover the meat, but I have no eye for volume. If you told me that a whale would fit into a five-gallon bucket, it would seem plausible to me. I’ve made sure that I have a quart of liquid, just in case I need it.
I add the spices, the onions, and the mushrooms to the meat and start to pour in the liquid. I forget to stop. In a moment I’m looking at what can best be described as boeuf bourguignon flavored soup. I’ve already put in the spices, so I can’t just remove the excess liquid.
Fortunately I do know how to reduce a liquid, so it all comes out almost right in the end; but what a chore I make out of everything. This wasn’t anything to compare to the cookie-dough catapult incident, but I still wound up with a headache.