the outline of proust’s novel can be said to correlate or take its cue from among many other known structures. one of odette’s dresses, or the cathedral which we have mentioned in judy hogan’s class all depend on a rich details.
another set of details particularly curious to me as a chef, and i hope, to any writer/reader who might parallel the art of the pan with the art of the pen, is how the structure and detail of a great dish of proust’s cuisine can be said to resemble the structure of the recherche.
a complex dish such as boeuf mode has a great many steps and details that bring it forth to the table.
so does proust’s novel.
one cannot make the sauce, before one has gone shopping.
there is a certain order to be respected.
and though in the end the platter of beef and the novel are consumed differently, because of their form, they are meant to be “eaten” as art. slowly and appreciatively with a certain contemplation. there is thus a similarity in their raison d’etre. their life. their purpose.
“why wouldn’t i make my book the way francoise made the boeuf mode that m. de norpois liked so much, where so many pieces of choice meat enrich the aspic?” (4:612-13)
there is more about this in accounting for taste by priscilla parkhurst
in researching the history of bouef a la mode i found it was also at
a different dish altogether was made by proust’s cook, francoise.
she first shops for and utilizes select cuts of beef to make a lovely rich stock.
after that is done (8 hours on the stove) she then sets out to purify the stock so it will be transparent as aspic.
the classic method, which also creates consommé, combines ground beef, spices, and herbs, egg whites and shells that forms an enormous raft which is set to float in the tall pot of simmering stock and which through a center hole in the raft, the stock burbles up and through and hence is clarified and flavored even further. the clarified stock is then chilled and cut into tiny brilliant sparkling cubes which decorates the dish.
so if you were to make a contemporary bouef a la mode (without the aspic) the difference from a bourgigonne is that a la mode uses a whole beef chuck roast as opposed to cutting the roast into cubes.
a classic la mode also uses a variety of vegetables (carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes) and even a touch of vinegar and red wine, though non-descript.
the bourgigonne however, employs the concentrated use of mushrooms and onions (pearl onions are preferred, but you can substitute chopped onions) and the bourgignonne part of its signature tells us that the wine to make the sauce should be from burgundy. i think you would enjoy the aroma created from either. and so set aside a nice wintry day to enjoy the process of making the beef.
here is a rich dish of classic proportions, inspired by the one which appeared in julia’s tome, mastering the art of french cooking.
this rich classic dish is enough in and of itself to serve as the meal. with a nice bottle of burgundy of course. okay, a very nice bottle.
2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1inch cubes
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
5 nice slices thick bacon, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
peel of 1 orange
1-2 t. tomato paste
2 small bay leaves
½ bottle red wine, preferably a burgundy
1 quart beef or veal stock, maybe more
beurre manie to thicken final sauce;
3 tablespoons flour, and 3 tablespoons butter
30 or so large mushrooms
18 -24 small white onions
there is always more than one-way to “cook your goose”, so to speak, but let’s use this as our basic efficient method. first get your mise en place together. that means first season the beef with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, and proceed to chop into small cubes about 1 inch thick. set this aside on a large baking sheet. gather all remaining ingredients. approach the stove, and heat a large, wide pan (2 qt.) that you can later cover, over medium heat. add the butter and the bacon when the pan is hot. if the butter doesn’t sizzle when you add it it’s not hot enough. when the butter is melted and the bacon renders out its fat, add the cubes of beef and sear very well. this is key to giving great deep rich color and flavor to the finished dish.
remove the seared meat to the large baking sheet as it is all done but then return it all to the pan. deglaze with the red wine and let that reduce by half. then add in the stock and the thyme, orange peel, tomato paste and bay leaves. stir well and frequently. bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about one hour.
add in your onions and your mushrooms. cook until the onions and mushrooms are tender and the meat is tender to the bite, but not enough so it falls about completely.
when the meat is done; remove the mushrooms and onions and meat to a large serving bowl. to thicken the sauce combine your butter and flour and whisk into the hot sauce. bring to a boil and simmer till the desired consistency is reached.
serve with a wonderful rustic bread.