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Vegetize It: Boeuf Bourguignon

January 2nd 09:01am, 2013

No one sneers at vegetarian cooking like the practitioners of classic French cuisine. Their recipes are so sacred, their art so carefully considered, that any substitution is viewed as an insult to the French people as a whole. Kelp powder in your veggie bouillabaisse? C’est scandaleux!

So when I was assigned boeuf bourguignon to vegetize, I turned to an old friend to help me get a handle on the spirit of this continental conundrum: Julia Child’s 1961 classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s here that Julia described this stew as “Certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.”

On the surface, boeuf bourguignon is a simple red-wine-and-beef stew, a peasant dish whose root vegetables and undistinguished cuts of meat reveal a surprising depth of flavor. In recent years, this classic has been revived, joining the ranks of haute cuisine and being relegated to that class of dishes set aside for special occasions – the season of which we are trekking through full steam. So let’s get to the dirty work, shall we?

Even in its carnivorous construction, this dish relies on developing complex flavors from herbs, aromatics and root vegetables, with the meat providing texture and moisture. We’re going to follow this same approach, inviting our old friend seitan to stand in for the beef, as well as mushrooms and beets to provide deep color and textural variation. Most classic bourguignon recipes also call for some amount of bacon to fatten things up a bit. We’ll get our fat in the form of olive oil but don’t want to lose that bacon flavor, so we’re pulling out one of our most astounding vegetarian tricks: shiitake bacon. (Trust me on this one.)

A note on wine: The Burgundies from which the dish takes its name can be difficult to find and a bit pricey when you do. Of course, feel free to splurge on your robust red of choice (’tis a season of joy, after all), but you have other options. Many recipes suggest subbing in any pinot noir, but I couldn’t shake the idea of Joël Robuchon’s heart breaking as a $2 California wine was poured into the pot. Instead, opt for a French pinot noir from outside the Burgundy region or a cheaper Burgundy, if you can find one. I used the Louis Latour 2009 Pinot Noir Bourgogne (about $17), but anything in the $10 to $20 range should be fine.

Like many stews, this one actually gets better after a sleepover in the refrigerator. So go ahead, make dinner for your get-together the night before the big day; we won’t tell.

Vegetarian Bourguignon
6 Servings

½ lb. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
Olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
8 oz. seitan, cubed
6 oz. baby bella mushrooms, quartered
1 Tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. freshly chopped thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
15 pearl onions, peeled and thawed if frozen
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
½ lb. beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup Burgundy or French pinot noir
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. arrowroot starch (optional)
Parsley for garnish

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• In a bowl, combine the shiitakes with ¼ cup of olive oil and sea salt. Spread the mushrooms out on a baking sheet and let them roast in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are dehydrated and crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside.
• Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the seitan and sear. Remove from heat and set aside.
• Add another tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven and sear the baby bellas. Remove from heat and set aside.
• Heat the butter and another tablespoon of olive oil in the Dutch oven. Add the onions and saute until they start to soften. Add the garlic, thyme and bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the pearl onions. Saute for another 2 to 3 minutes, then add the carrots and beets. Cook until the pearl onions begin to brown.
• Deglaze the Dutch oven with the wine and let cook until the wine reduces by half.
• Add the vegetable stock, lemon juice and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer until the vegetables are tender and the liquid has reduced by half, about 20 to 25 minutes.
• Add the reserved seitan and mushroom “bacon,” and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, add the arrowroot starch mixed with a dash of cold water.
• Right before serving, add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
• Serve over mashed potatoes or cooked egg noodles.

 — photo by Kristi Schiffman

By Beth Styles

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