Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cato the Elder's Beef Bourguignon

Today we have one of my absolute favorites - Beef Bourguignon (or Beef Burgundy as we call it here in the States) from Cato the Elder's De Agri Cultura from 165 BC. This is definitely the earliest recipe for this dish I have ever seen! And so much that is so cool is attached to this recipe. Ok, first we go to section 83 of the text. This dish is part of a religious ceremony to maintain the health of one's cattle and is dedicated to 'Mars Silvanus of the woods'. Often people are told that Roman gods are just the Greek gods, but here we have a ceremony to a native Italic god - very exciting, yes! We also see some nutritional theory on display here by Cato. Throughout this text, he modifies his recommended diet for slaves and other farmhands depending on the amount of work required by the season, punctuating major work days (i.e. harvest, planting) with accompanying major feasts, such as this one. This is just like modern athletes modifying their diet to match their calorie expenditure through the year and then eating huge amounts before big races! (see Chris Carmichael's Food for Fitness book for more on this). Okay, less talk, more recipe.
Cato's Beef Bourguignon
about a 1/3 pound bacon
2 or so pounds stew beef, lamb, or goat
olive oil
red wine
salt, pepper

1) Start warming your pot on the stove and add some olive oil, quarter cup or so, and the chopped bacon.
2) Cook until the bacon has released most of its fat.
3) Take your chopped up pieces of stew meat and toss them in a bowl with enough flour to coat. Around a half cup or so.
4) Add floured meat to pot and stir well. You want all your meat to slowly brown and the flour to form a roux (makes the sauce thicker and better later) with the fat - but you don't want it all to burn. A nice mid-low heat. 
Notice the 'in action' spatula. 
Stir so it does not burn. When you are ready to add the wine, make sure to carefully add the precisely measured amount of red wine as demonstrated below:
Add some thyme, salt, black pepper. Ye olde herbs de provence is nice. And let simmer for a few hours. Stir it periodically so nothing can find a way to stick to the bottom. And I think that the food likes it if you come say 'hi' to it and stir it periodically. It makes it remember that you care. At first the smell and color will be very wine-y and raw. But that will gradually go away and it will turn a nice pink and make your whole house smell delicious! 
Notice the color change from the first picture. 
Now, Cato says to serve this with some farro - just cook it in a pot like pasta - and I agree with him that it would be great. Also a nice big piece of crusty bread would be wonderful. No potatoes my ancient cooking friends! Nein! That is a new world crop! Cato says to use a 1:1 ratio bacon to meat, so feel free to change my recipe to be like that if you want ... it would be good ... and rich ...
Good News: Cato says that either a slave or free man can cook this.
Bad News: Cato says that no woman may eat this or even look at it! Oh no! Women turn off my blog! Do not look at the pictures! Oh no! I have violated Cato's direct order! Seriously, women, stop looking at the pictures. Seriously. Women! Stop looking!

Enjoy, men! I will try to find a recipe both sexes can eat, or even look at, next time!


Andrew said...

I wish Cato left us with more explanation than just: Mulier ad eam rem divinam ne adsit neve videat quo modo fiat. I guess because the meal was actually part of a ritual. Underlying that might be a desire (not just on Cato's part, but those who developed the prohibition) to keep all that protein and calories for the men doing the agricultural labor.

Lew said...

Is it likely Cato thought the presence of women was going to somehow weaken men the night before the harvest? Kind of like the superstitions boxers have? ("Women weakens the legs!") Or do you think Cato just liked having men-only festivals, like an ancient day He-Man Woman Haters Club?

Lew said...

Also, I'd like to point out that modern athletes are not actually slaves, possibly excepting college football players.

Anonymous said...

Can I request more vegetarian recipes Jake? Also, you are a gigantic nerd and it's awesome to see you in your foodie-nerd element. Emily