I was inspired to do this dish when I watched Ina Garten prepare it on her show: The Barefoot Contessa. Now, the prospect of making a French dish can be daunting. Even the mere thought brings alive images of a stout chef called Gaston, curly moustaches bristling, berating me with French terms of endearment at my sure-to-be ham-handed attempt at la cuisine française.
Gaston combined with the lack of a working oven in the Batcave and a few ingredients almost put the kibosh on my plan. Only the prospect of doing a flambé and deglazing a pan with wine (makes me feel very professional!) gave me the cojones to go ahead. Besides, for me, half the joy of cooking is all about improv. That, and a little trick. Work on a recipe that calls for a bottle of wine (done). Get two. Three; even better. One goes into the pan while cooking; the rest go into you prior to cooking. Voilà! You’re good to go. Oh yes, just to be on the safe side, don’t invite any French people to the meal.
1 tbsp olive oil
8 ounces bacon (cut into pieces)
1 kg beef (cut into cubes; pat dry and dust with salt and pepper)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 carrots (sliced thick, diagonally)
2 onions, sliced lengthwise
2 cloves garlic (chopped fine)
1/2 cup cognac
750-ml red wine (dry not sweet; experts recommend a Burgundy)
2 cups canned beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
A sprig or two of fresh thyme
3 tbsp butter
1 lb mushrooms (chopped)
Heat oil in a large pan on medium flame.
When hot hot, add bacon.
Cook till bacon lightly browned.
Brown in batches in the remaining yummy o. oil and bacon fat.
Toss in the carrots and onions.
Cook till onions are lightly browned.
Add garlic and cook for a minute.
Now fun with flambé!
Add the cognac.
Lean well away from pan and ka-boom! with a match to burn off the alcohol.
Next, deglaze the pan with a few splashes of wine, scraping the bottom of pan to dislodge all the tasty brown bits.
In with the beef and bacon.
Add the rest of the wine and enough beef broth to cover the meat.
Add the tomato paste and thyme leaves (strip the sprig).
Bring to a boil, cover pan with lid, and put the flame on absolute, absolute low.
Now forget all about it for over an hour and more.
Which leaves you with a lot of time for conversation, wine, more chit-chat, more vino and so on.
An hour later, check meat for tenderness with a fork.
When fork pierces through easily, it’s done.
Now, in a separate pan, heat butter on medium flame.
Fry mushrooms till lightly browned.
Add to pan with meat.
Let the stew cook uncovered for 10 minutes or so.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with some good bread.