Julia Child. I could write everything cliché about this woman. But I won’t, except for stating my curiosity for food was cemented by this woman when I was 11 years old. Yeah, I was a strange kid.
That year was huge for the Lehails. My eldest sister, Ronnie got married. She was barely 20. Her leaving the nest was tremendously joyous, but like Jo in the book Little Women (when Jo’s sister — Meg was engaged to Mr. Brooks) we all felt a tinge of sadness. Our eldest sibling and my parents’ first baby wouldn’t be living with us day in and day out. We knew nothing would ever be the same.
Each of us worked through the transition differently. My parents focused on work and their social circle and the twins (my other sister and brother) focused on their teenage lives. As the youngest child, I was left to my own devices for entertainment. I was tired of my usual school yard adventures. No more cartoons for me. My Saturday PBS cooking shows filled a void from boredom.
What I find intriguing about Julia was she reframed food for home cooks. In a time of pre-packaged food innovation, she focused on culinary techniques, quality ingredients, and a belief that good food could be prepared at home. She established accessibility to French cuisine and empowerment to cookbook readers. I am no Julia Child, but her ethos provided basis for my own – reframing global food through a South Asian lens. Reframing the perception of South Asian cuisine. Reinterpreting ingredients. Building upon narratives. Filling gaps.
So, this leads to the recipe. Julia is best known for boeuf (beef) bourguignon, a slow-braised beef stew. Her version is a multistep process that includes cooking the vegetables separately and straining the sauce. While it has been touted as being an authentic French dish, Julia was clear in stating her version was merely an interpretation of a classic.
This leads to my version, a recipe that intermingles Madras Beef with Julia’s Beef Bourguignon. Madras curry or Madras sauce is a fairly hot curry sauce. It originates in the south of India and gets its name from the city of Madras now known as Chennai. Usually Madras Beef has flavour elements of spicy, salty, sweet, and sour. A distinctive red colour is achieved from savoury and earthy toasted spices. Coconut or yogurt provides a sweet smoothness, while a sour note is provided by tamarind.
Julia’s classic version, on its own, is much more than another beef stew. It has deep flavour from the onions, beef, and red wine. The aroma, while it slowly cooks, is a heady experience.
So when it came to my version, I carefully blended the two recipes and perfectly flavoured. The result was a beautiful contrast of the deep and rich thyme and wine flavours and the coconut oil, paprika, turmeric, garam masala, and cardamom. It is further punctuated by the Worcestershire sauce.
You may be wondering, how does it taste? Fantastic, if I may say so. It is indulgent winter food at its best. What I love best is that it can be prepared completely ahead of time, even a day in advance. This beef deliciousness only gains in flavour when reheated.
The ingredient that bridges the west to east is the Worcestershire sauce. It has a spicy sour flavour that adds a lovely depth to this stew. It is concentrated so you only need a few dashes. Really though, Worcestershire is not really a sauce, but a flavouring.
Worcestershire sauce is a derivative of the British Raj. The original recipe is closely guarded, but basically consists of anchovies layered in brine, tamarind, molasses, garlic in vinegar, chilies, cloves, shallots, and sugar.
At a recent supper, I served this dish. It received rave reviews. It was an easy one-pot meal, but looked like I had slaved over a hot stove all day. (I won’t lie, I love when that happens.) I found myself thinking, this is perfect for get togethers after Christmas, but before the New Year festivities start and everyone is sick of eating Turkey.
I have one crucial piece of advice, don’t overcrowd the pan to brown the meat. Take your time, it’s worth it. You want each piece to be browned, not steamed. Give them some room in that pan. Otherwise, enjoy the process of cooking this A La Madras Beef Bourguignon.
A La Madras Beef Bourguignon
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Coconut oil
2 pounds Beef Stew Meat
Himalayan Salt and Pepper
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces, tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon chili pepper
4 tablespoons of flour
1 cup Red Wine & 3 cups Beef Stock or 4 cups Beef Stock (I use low sodium)
Several Dashes Worcestershire
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled,
2 cardamom pods, bruised
2 cups of Button Mushrooms (quartered)
4 whole Carrots, peeled and diced
2 Potatoes, peeled and diced
2 Tablespoons Cilantro (minced)
Pat meat dry, season well with salt and pepper. Heat oils in a large pot over medium heat. Working in batches brown the beef cubes for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.
Add garlic and onion sauté́ until softened or for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add tomato paste, sugar, turmeric, garam masala, paprika, chili powder and flour. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Return the beef cubes to the pot, add the red wine (if using) and bring to a boil. Add beef stock and bouquet garni and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium to low and cook 2 minutes. Add button mushroom. Cover cook for 1.5 hours. Add carrots and potatoes. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Serve family style with crusty bread, maybe even naan.