By Julia Moskin
Published: New York Times, August 25, 2009
WITH the success of “Julie & Julia” in movie theaters, and Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” storming best-seller lists, boeuf bourguignon — the film’s slow-braised culinary centerpiece — has probably never been made by so many American home cooks, at least not in August.
But although we’re suddenly a nation of pearl-onion-peelers, Ms. Child’s recipe is not the boeuf bourguignon that most French cooks would make.
For home cooks craving this deep, savory stew, there’s a more direct translation in Ginette Mathiot’s “Je Sais Cuisiner” (“I Know How to Cook”), an authoritative cookbook for French housewives first published in 1932, and often described as the French “Joy of Cooking.”
Ms. Mathiot, who died in 1998, studied and taught at the Sorbonne when enseignement ménager, or home economics, still had the status of an academic discipline.
The book, with more than 1,400 recipes, has sold more than six million copies. The first English version will be published in October by Phaidon Press, translated by Clotilde Dusoulier, the Parisian food writer who blogs at chocolateandzucchini.com.
Ms. Mathiot’s boeuf bourguignon has just nine ingredients (plus salt and pepper) and takes just five steps. The meat is browned in the same fat as some chopped onions and bacon pieces. Flour is sprinkled in and browned — this is the key to a thick, but not too winy, sauce — then slowly cooked in liquid, with mushrooms tossed in toward the end. The hands-on time for the cook: about 25 minutes, compared with at least 90 minutes for Ms. Child’s recipe.
Ms. Mathiot’s version, especially when left for a day to assimilate its flavors, is equally suave and feels more satisfying — great payoff for little work.
“Most home cooks in France would not make such an elaborate version of what is supposed to be a simple stew,” Ms. Dusoulier said.