Cheeky devil

Boeuf Bourguignon made with cheeks

I’ve arrived in Bourgogne. Or Burgundy. Home of the infamous Boeuf Bourguignon, which was the main dish cooked today. The region is synonymous with prestigious vineyards. Basically, every recipe à la bourguignonne is flavoured with wine, and usually baby onions, lardons and mushrooms. Cassis is here. Dijon too, though Moutarde de Dijon isn’t protected by AOC. Charolais cattle feed on parsley-scented grass apparently yielding tender and beautifully flavoured meat. I’d like to taste their Pain d’Epice, which is a loaf cake of sorts, made with honey and typically spiced with aniseed and nutmeg.

Bright and early this morning I marinated a beef cheek in red wine with carrots, onion and celery, garlic, a Bouquet Garni and black peppercorns. The cheek would only get 4 hours marination because I’d be cooking it later in the afternoon so it was vac-packed. The compression effect helps concentrate flavours more rapidly. Still, better to marinade overnight.

There’s some dispute, even among the chefs, as to whether shin or cheeks should be used. I’ve always assumed it was shin but I’m up for a cheeky chew.

Large chunks of cheek were extracted from the marinade and rapidly seared in hot oil. Real care was taken by turning each piece rather than just stirring the whole lot asunder. The red wine from the marinade was brought to the boil and skimmed then set aside. The meat was decanted and the mirepoix from the marinade added to the pan to deglaze. Temperature right down and lid on to help develop steam. Once the browned proteins were released from the pan and taken up by the mirepoix the pan was drained through a colander. Meat back in, flour over the top, stir through, oven. Tomato paste in, oven. Mirepoix makes a return with its old friend the Bouquet Garni, the red wine and brown veal stock. Simmer. Season. Oven.

Carrots were cored to make small barrels. Baby onions trimmed. Both glazed. Lardons blanched then slowly fried to render the fat and take on even colour. Mushrooms slowly fried brown in the lardon fat. A large potato was turned to 7 sides. It’s called Pomme Vapeur and feels like a life-size hand grenade. Chefs require potatoes cooked in water to be done slowly, barely at a simmer. Never boil a spud! It requires patience. I’m used to boiling potatoes. Once cooked it takes the critical step of air drying in the pan. To serve the potato is rolled in butter and parsley and must not take on any colour.

Then it got strange. Love heart croutons. You heard right. No chef could explain why the history of this dish includes such things. I wonder what the story is? Anyway, the bread was trimmed into small hearts, fried in clarified butter and the tops dipped in meat sauce and then parsley. You’d think they’d have a heart-shaped cutter. If they did we weren’t allowed to use it. Cutting the shape isn’t as hard as it sounds. The crusts were trimmed off a slice of white bread, which was then cut in half. Each half was cut diagonally with the wide end trimmed to a kite. the peak (not the point) was then cut to be inverted and from there, simply clip the sharp edges round. Clear as mud.

I was pretty happy with the dish I put up. 2 things though. First, I should’ve used more flour to get a thicker sauce, almost like a black syrup. And second, I was generous with my portion size. I think I got excited.

Snails in garlic and parsley butter

In demo, chef also prepared Escargots à la Bourguignonne. All my life I’ve managed to avoid eating snails. Nothing about them appeals to me. Say “snail” and I immediately think of all the creamy yellow-black guts that erupted from the body when I stepped on them as a child. Nope. Non. Nein. Not for me. But I promised myself I’d try everything at Le Cordon Bleu so I’m up for it. To test my metal chef asked us to smell the tin can the snails came in. Phooey! Not good. Definitely not good. Certainly not appetising. Yuk springs to mind. Oh so that’s why snails are served with copious garlic butter. Just kidding. Of course, when the critters are washed they no pong.

Pretty easy to knock up. Make a compound butter with parsley, garlic, shallot and seasoning. Pipe into the bowl, plop the rinsed snails on top, then more butter. Into the oven.

I tried one. Texture-wise it was mushroom like; maybe a bit more bite. Can’t say I hated them but given the choice I would probably order something else on the menu.