After reading My Life in France, I was on a Julia Child kick. I decided that I should attempt one of her recipes. My mother owns two of her cookbooks, so I set to work scanning through each one for a recipe. Most of the recipes were pretty clearly over my head, but I found a relatively simple one for Hamburgers a la Française with Sauce Bordelaise. Clearly I still needed a side dish, so I chose White Beans with Herbs. It turns out that it takes forever to cook dry beans. I followed the instructions and boiled them for exactly two minutes and then let them soak for an hour before simmering them for almost two hours. At that point they were just barely cooked, but had enough butter and herbs in them to be pretty tasty.
My main dish didn’t take as long, but was a lot more work. To begin with, the sauce called for four inches of bone marrow. I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find any bone marrow at my local grocery store, but all I had to do was ask at the meat counter. They cut me as much bone as I needed. The meat counter was not the end of the bone marrow struggle, however. My instructions were to use a cleaver to cut the bone in half and remove the marrow in one piece. I don’t know what kind of super woman Julia Child was, but there was no way I could cut through this bone with a meat cleaver. I ended up using a spoon and an icepick to dig out all of the marrow from the center of the bone, removing any need to chop it.
I assembled the ingredients for my patties and set to work. Mixing the beef and the egg together with my hands was pretty nasty, but the mess washed off. Once my patties were done and removed to a “hot platter”, I added chopped green onions to my pan and poured in my previously boiled wine and bullion mixture with my hard-earned bone marrow. Once my liquid had reduced in my juicy, fatty pan by about half I added the cornstarch and water. I’m not sure how hot my pan was supposed to be for this, but my cornstarch stayed kind of clumpy. I was too exhausted and hungry by this point to worry too much, and it tasted fine. Finally my burgers and sauce were complete and I could serve them. It was after 8:00, so my family was a bit hungry. We ate the burgers on big iceberg lettuce leaves while the beans finished cooking. They were delicious. The spices and wine sauce mixed so well together. I was quite happy with the result. If I ever attempt to make them again, however, I am skipping the side of beans. The burgers are plenty filling and would be complemented better by a less protein rich side; maybe a mixed greens salad. That would certainly be easier than never-ending beans. In their defense, when my beans were finally cooked they tasted pretty good. All in all, it was a delicious meal, but I learned how much work that much tastiness takes.
Hamburgers a la Française with Sauce Bordelaise
For 6 medium-sized hamburgers
¾ cup finely minced onions, previously cooked in 2Tb butter
1 ½ lbs. lean ground beef from the neck and plate
2 Tb ground beef suet, beef marrow, or softened butter
1 ½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. thyme
a big mixing bowl
flour on a plate (about ½ cup)
a heavy skillet
1 Tb butter and 1 Tb oil
a hot serving platter
Place all ingredients except flour, butter, and oil in the mixing bowl and beat to blend thoroughly. Forming hamburgers into cakes. Just before cooking, dredge in flour and shake off excess. Sauté in very hot butter and oil and remove to a hot platter. Keep warm while making the following sauce- 2 to 3 minutes.
A 4 inch piece of beef marrow
2 Tb minced shallots or scallions
1 tsp. cornstarch blended with 1 tsp. water
½ cup beef bullion
2/3 cup red wine
salt and pepper
2 Tb minced parsley
Stand bone on one end and split with a clever to expose marrow. Dig out marrow in one piece using a small knife. Then dipping knife in hot water for each cut, slice or dice marrow. Bring bullion and wine to the boil in a small saucepan, remove from heat, add marrow, and set aside. When meat is done, remove to hot platter and pour fat out of frying pan. Stir in shallots or scallions, drain marrow and reserve; add liquid to pan. Boil rapidly, scraping up coagulated sauté juices with wooden spoon. When reduced to about ½ a cup, remove from heat and stir in cornstarch. Simmer 1 minute; add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, fold in marrow and parsley, and pour over meat.
White Beans with Herbs
1 lb. dry white beans
2 quarts water
1 large onion
1 herb bouquet (6 parsley sprigs, 2 cloves garlic, ¼ tsp. thyme, and 1 bay leaf tied together in washcloth)
2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter
3 or 4 cloves garlic pureed with 1 tsp. salt
5 or 6 Tb minced fresh parsley and/or basil
Bean cooking juices as needed
Salt and pepper
Pick over the beans to be sure there are no stones, wash and drain them, and place in a large kettle. Add the water, cover, and bring to the boil. Boil uncovered for exactly 2 minutes. Cover and let sit for exactly 1 hour. (This takes the place of the old-fashioned overnight soak.)As soon as the beans have had their soak, bring to simmer again, adding the herb bundle and 1-tablespoon salt. Simmer slowly, partially covered, for about 1-½ hours or until the beans are just tender. Melt the butter in a large serving casserole, stir in the garlic and let warm a moment, then fold in the beans and fresh herbs plus a little of the bean cooking juices if you feel them needed. Season carefully to taste.