Life on the Hill doesn’t exactly allow ample opportunity for experimentation with cooking, leading to a routine diet at the dining halls. Over the course of the quarter, columnist Andrew Warner sets out to break the culinary monotony of dorm life, armed with a rice cooker and a few pantry staples.
Julia Child changed the world of food entertainment – her TV show “The French Chef” was one of the first cooking shows of its kind. If not for her, food-related entertainment like BuzzFeed’s “Tasty” videos and even Dorm Dining might not have existed.
Saturday was the 54th anniversary of Child’s show first airing on TV. Maybe it’s not the most exciting anniversary, but it’s still timely enough to warrant a rice cooker homage. Hopefully Child isn’t rolling in her grave when I say I made her Saute de Boeuf a la Parisienne (Parisian beef saute) in a three-cup rice cooker instead of the heavy nine-inch skillet she suggests.
It’s been three years since I last cooked or ate meat. While I cooked it frequently prior to going vegetarian, cooking Child’s beef saute made me realize that I absolutely loathe the slimy texture of raw meat.
Because raw meat can contaminate the workspace with bacteria, I recommend purchasing precut beef strips to minimize contact with the beef. It’s important to make sure the beef is cut into fairly thin strips so they cook quickly – aim for about a quarter of an inch thick.
Unfortunately, Child’s recipe calls for several expensive ingredients, ranging from filets of beef and shallots to Madeira wine; it’s not an accessible recipe for college students. But students can recreate similar flavors with cheaper ingredients like skirt steak, garlic and cooking wine.
While my rendition isn’t quite as elegant as Child’s masterpiece, it’s still a respectable dish.
Browning the meat in the rice cooker was difficult because I have a small model. For owners of five-cup rice cookers, the recipe shouldn’t pose many issues, but with my three-cup rice cooker, I found I had to cook about five batches of four beef strips before I had enough cooked meat for a full meal.
Sauteing is tough in a rice cooker – it becomes more of a hybrid between steaming and pan-frying. Because the lid traps the moisture in the meat, the meat cooks rapidly from both the steam and the direct heat.
After about five minutes of steam-frying the meat, I removed the lid to flip the beef, and found the steam gave the meat an unappealing gray color. I decided to cook it uncovered to let the steam out.
Because the beef wasn’t heavy enough to apply the pressure necessary for the rice cooker to remain on the cook setting, I used a flat plastic spoon – which comes with most rice cookers – to press down on the beef, which browned it faintly. While the beef doesn’t crisp up like it would on the grill or in a pan, cooking it uncovered allows it to somewhat caramelize so it’s not too plain or gamey.
The process is monotonous and time-consuming, but not difficult. If I had a larger rice cooker, the process would have been more streamlined. But because I could only cook four pieces of beef at a time, I ended up spending at least 45 minutes frying the beef.
Once the meat was cooked, I placed it in a bowl and tossed it with salt and pepper – which oddly enough, are the only spices Child calls for.
Cooking the sauce is simple as it only consists of adding the cream, cooking wine, mushrooms and other ingredients to the rice cooker and letting them cook until the sauce thickens. After the sauce was done, I tossed the beef with the sauce and let it soak in the warm sauce for about two minutes to ensure that it was reheated thoroughly.
My main complaint with Child’s recipe is that hers seems underseasoned. I didn’t taste my dish, but my friends told me it could use more herbs, so the second time around, I added fresh thyme because it has a strong, minty essence quintessential to French cooking.
I served the beef with some pasta, which I added to the rice cooker while cooking the sauce. The pasta absorbed the sauce’s flavor, but two tablespoons of water were required to keep it from thickening too much.
In her book, Child describes the dish as a French version of beef stroganoff, which is an accurate comparison. It doesn’t have the same tang as beef stroganoff because the recipe called for whipping cream rather than sour cream, but it still has a rich body thanks to the beef stock.
As delicious as Child’s beef saute is, it isn’t the most practical rice-cooker recipe. Because it takes so long to cook such a small amount of beef, it’s not a recipe for people who don’t have the time or patience to constantly check on the meat.
While the dish is a lot of work for a rice-cooker recipe, in the end, it’s the taste that matters. And Child’s beef saute is a winner in both a skillet and a rice cooker.
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