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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Boeuf en Daube á la Virginia Woolf

Everything depended upon things being served up to the precise moment they were ready. The beef, the bayleaf, and the wine – all must be done to a turn. To keep it waiting was out of the question.

Boeuf en daube is Mildred’s masterpiece. Mrs. Ramsay’s maid spends three days preparing the dish for the famous dinner party in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

. . . an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine . . .

This is the one time in the work of Virginia Woolf where she allows herself to indulge in a domestic scene involving the preparation and presentation of food. The Boeuf en daube is so good that Mrs Ramsay cannot avoid taking the credit for it.

“It is a triumph,” said Mr Bankes, laying his knife down for a moment. He had eaten attentively. It was rich; it was tender. It was perfectly cooked. How did she manage these things in the depths of the country? he asked her. She was a wonderful woman. All his love, all his reverence, had returned; and she knew it.

“It is a French recipe of my grandmother’s,” said Mrs Ramsay, speaking with a ring of great pleasure in her voice.


My friends were coming Saturday evening, so I bought the meat on Thursday, we were going to be six people so I went for about
1½ kilos Chuck (or braising) Steak, which I cut into fairly large pieces, 5cm x 2.5cm, trimmed of fat.

The meat went into a dish and was covered with
Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, a couple of Bay Leaves, 2 tea-spoons of crushed Juniper Berries, black pepper, 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, 1 tea-spoon of mustard, a shake of cumin and corriander, a dollop of Olive Oil and enough Red Wine to cover. This was then placed in the fridge and allowed to marinate until the next day.

Friday, about mid-day, I fished the pieces of beef out of the marinade and rolled them in flour and browned them, a few pieces at a time, in olive oil.
Next I sliced about
2oo gms of Bacon into lardons and cooked until crisp. When they were ready they covered the bottom of the casserole dish.
250 gms of Button Mushrooms were peeled and cooked in the fat left over from the bacon. I put the mushrooms to one side.
On top of the bacon lardons went
2 large onions, finely diced
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
3 sticks Celery, sliced
Then the mushrooms, followed by the beef. What was left of the marinade was poured into the casserole dish with a little chicken stock and the rest of the bottle of red wine.
Finally I blanched, peeled and sliced 2 large tomatoes and placed them on top of the other ingredients and fitted the lid.
It cooked in the oven for an hour at 150 degrees Centigrade or Gas Mark 2, or until it started bubbling, then I turned the heat down very low and slow cooked it for another three or four hours.
It’s important that you don’t try to cut down the cooking time. If you cook boeuf en daube quickly, or on a high heat, the meat will be tough.

Saturday, I reheated the casserole, beginning a couple of hours before it was served. (Of course, you can serve it the same day it is cooked, but it is always better the day after.) When it was ready I used a slatted spoon to remove the meat and vegetables, piling them high on a huge earthenware platter.
Around the edges of the platter I placed plain Noodles which had been boiled and tossed in olive oil and garlic. Immediately before serving I spooned some of the liquid from the casserole over the meat and vegetables and threw onto the full platter a handful of black pitted olives.

Green salad was served on the side.

Was it a triumph? I couldn’t possibly say.

11 Responses to “Boeuf en Daube á la Virginia Woolf”

  1. This recipe reminds me of Elizabeth David. I’m sure I’ve cooked this one once, from her French Provincial Cookery. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Although it takes three days, the total work adds up to hardly anything. Browning the meat is the longest part. The house smells marvellous for days, as I recall. But isn’t 1.5kg rather a lot for six? It is very rich.

    jb says: Hi Ian. Yes, there is an Elizabeth David version. I haven’t used it, though. Someone borrowed my Elizabeth David and didn’t bring it back (You know who you are).
    And, of course, that’s a lot of beef for six people. I needed to be sure there was plenty left over for me and my partner the following day.

  2. Eric Baxter says:

    a shake of cumin and corriander??? Please.

  3. Le Creuset says:

    “Was it a triumph? I couldn’t possibly say.” Why not!?!? This sounds like a loooooot of work but I just might try it.

    jb says: But work’s good isn’t it? One of the best reasons I know for getting out of bed in the morning.

  4. […] Works of Literature, and the Passages That Feature Them was in front of me. It must include Boeuf en Daube, I […]

  5. cristina says:

    I was just about to blog about my experience making this Woold-inpsired recipe and when I went to google Boeuf en Daube, I found this post. So it seems you beat my to it. Mine was a slight variation.. I suppose I might still write about it.

    Sounds delicious!

  6. Roland Scahill says:

    cooking your recipe today (well, started the marinade yesterday) and it already smells incredibl

  7. john baker says:

    Keep me posted, Roland. Winter’s on it’s way in my part of the world, and food like Boeuf en Daube has a great part to play.

  8. […] the recipe again before I wrote this post, I discovered a similar Woolf-inspired Boeuf en Daube on John Baker’s Blog. Check it out for another spin on […]

  9. Patsy Moffett says:

    There’s a restaurant in Aberystwyth, Gwesty Cymru, that does the most amazing Boeuf en Daube.

    Funds are a little tight so I thought I’d have a go and came across this recipe.

    I’ve got lots of time – it’s Thursday eve and I’m serving on Sunday – so I thought I’d try something. I’m starting overnight with a ‘dry’ marinade of the herbs, spices and oil. My thinking is that the oil will bring the flavour out. I’ll then add the wine tomorrow evening – that way it won’t break the meat down too much.

    Let’s see what happens!

  10. john baker says:

    Bon appetit, Patsy.

  11. […] Adapted from John Baker’s blog. […]