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The Bordelaise challenge

"Classic bordelaise sauce, which can transform shoe leather into strip steak, is made with veal stock, demi-glace and time - a lot of time."

Sam Sifton - New York Times

It's David's special meal day and the challenge was to use up the remains of this bottle of genuine Grand Cru St. Emilion Bordeaux wine. From the year 2009 no less. When our younger son and family came back from France at the end of January this year, they gave us, as a present, this bottle. It is from a small vineyard just outside the village of St. Emilion, called Chateau Bernateau, which I discover was first established way, way back in 1650. I don't know whether it has been in the same family for that long though.

So while I'm on the wine - here is what I found. It actually wasn't much until I found an article on the Forbes website, and if you are interested in the technicalities of wine-making give it a look. There are videos too. The vineyard's own website is currently under construction. From the Forbes site I learnt a few things - The owner's names are Pierrick and Karen Lavau. They are organic - in fact they started the certification process in the year of our bottle - 2009. On the whole the blend they use in their wine is 80% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot and 80% of it is exported . They have some unique oak barrels designed by Pierrick Lavau - with stainless steel bottoms, and windows down the sides so that the fermentation process can be monitored.

Why this particular wine? Well it was apparently the one that was open to tours on that particular day. Anyway the bottle is open and mostly drunk because we took it along to the birthdays dinner at the weekend. Our family is very restrained in their wine drinking - hence the remains. There is not a lot left - perhaps up to the bottom of the name of the vineyard on the bottle - so not enough to make a daube. But I thought I could probably make a steak Bordelaise - which, I now see, was not what I thought it was.

I thought it was just steak deglazed with a red wine sauce. So I bought some Porterhouse steak this morning. However, when I came to investigate Entrecôte à la Bordelaise I found that although fundamentally a red wine sauce it seems to have to include marrow and shallots as well. The purists, of which How to Feed a Loon is a prime example, certainly insist on this. So with no hope of bone marrow - and would I want it anyway? - and currently no shallots this was obviously not a goer. This particular recipe is very cheffy - it tells you how to cook the steak - filet mignon - which is not usually available in your supermarket either - well I suppose you could buy a whole fillet - using the sous-vide method. Don't ask. So I think this classic way of doing things is for the day when you feel like becoming a chef. After a visit to an expensive butcher.

Going down the scale of simplicity, the next option is to make a bordelaise sauce separately - and here I found two classy recipes from Rebecca Franklin at The Spruce Eats website and also from Simon Wood at the BBC food website. Both of them ignore the bone marrow but they include the shallots. I don't think I can be bothered making a separate sauce, that involves boiling down, and beef stock, and besides I don't have those shallots. I was thinking more along the lines of deglazing the pan with wine.

Which is when I remembered Steak marchand du vin - wine merchant's steak. It is also a Bordeaux dish, so I think I almost fit the Bordelaise definition. Indeed there are plenty of recipes for steak Bordelaise out there that definitely don't include the marrow or the shallots. Valli Little is one of the cooks who does that. Interestingly some of my glossy 'French' cookbooks did not do Steak à la Bordelaise at all. Even the Murdoch book which has just about every classic French dish that you can think of does not include it. In fact Elizabeth David seemed to think that Bordeaux food was not well known. The implication being that it wasn't very good either. She said that this might be due to the fact that Bordeaux and England were as one, as it were, for centuries thanks to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and that therefore Bordeaux food was English food. Bordeaux food did not really begin until the 17th century when the big wine chateaux were established. And of course, England was the largest importer of Bordeaux wines - claret as they called it.

Having not found many recipes in my library I actually turned to a large volume that I own, which is actually French - Good French Cooking by Maple, Comtesse Guy de Toulouse-Lautrec. It contains just about every French dish - unillustrated - and indeed there is a recipe for Bifsteaks à la Bordelaise. And I have to say I think the recipe - see below - is more or less what I was thinking of.

"Heat oil in a skillet. Sauté onion and shallot over a moderately high heat until golden, but do not burn. Add the beefsteaks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When browned on one side. turn and sprinkle with flour. Pour in wine and stir the sauce well. Lower the heat and cook until the sauce thickens."

Pretty simple and genuinely French, so why not do that? Well finally I found Delia. Saint Delia saves the day with her Entrecôte marchand de vin, which is actually very similar to Mapie's version.

On the other hand, I also found that lots of recipes included mushrooms and I do have a few mushrooms to use up, so I think I might saute' some onions, mushrooms and garlic until brown, not sloppy. Set them aside, cook the steak, remove the steak and return the onions and mushrooms to the pan with the wine. I did see a couple of variations on this (minus the mushrooms) that also looked interesting - from the Serious Eats man - J. Kenji López-Alt and from the Boston Globe. Both of whom seemed to think you needed something acidic - lemon juice or vinegar to add. Even a touch of Worcestershire sauce and/or balsamic vinegar.

Time is running out because I'm cooking some gratin potatoes with this, so yes, something around those last few ideas I think. Bordelaise challenge - confronted but not yet carried through.


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