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Why I’m Skipping the Turkey to Make Boeuf Bourguignon

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Less than 24 hours after my boyfriend and I agreed to make our first “just us” Thanksgiving together a simple event, with our favorite penne pasta as our main course, I decided to pivot and opt for Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon.

Photo by James Ransom

A turkey, we both knew from the start, was out of the question—I had roasted an entire turkey in October to test a recipe, and for three very beige weeks, we made our way through turkey shepherd’s pie, turkey pot pie, turkey pasta, and plain old turkey. Turkey was off the table.

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We arrived at penne pasta on the basis that, without a lot of time to prepare before the actual day (and no one to impress), pasta would be a refreshingly easy—and delicious—option. We were outsmarting what is possibly the most dreaded Thanksgiving tradition: a long cook time. No waking up at 6 A.M. to get the bird in the oven, no wasting valuable time fretting about internal temperatures, and no juggling complicated timing issues.

But then it began to sink in that pasta may be too simple. The recipe takes a grand total of fifteen minutes to make, and what’s Thanksgiving without something simmering away in the oven? This Thursday began to feel less like a holiday and more like any Saturday afternoon.

Julia’s recipe—neither turkey-based, nor quick to cook—rose to my mind as the primary candidate. It passed the first round of inspection by virtue of being turkey-less (though let’s be honest, the three cups of wine has its appeal, too). And after browning the beef and adding wine and broth in with sautéed vegetables and lardons, it cooks for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. But best of all? It’s a one-pot meal.

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In trying to circumvent the culinary circus that Thanksgiving sometimes becomes, I ended up in the exact position I had tried to avoid, just without the bells and whistles.

Come Thursday, I’ll be making a recipe I’ve shied away from for years on the grounds that, like deboning a duck (or, for many, roasting a turkey), it felt like an avoidable project that could only end in heartbreak, burnt beef, and a late bedtime. I envisioned my boeuf sharing the same unfortunate fate as Julie Bowen’s in the Nora Ephron film, Julie and Julia—charred beyond recognition.

But unlike Julie, whose race to the finish leaves her too exhausted to stay awake for the oven timer, I’ll be embracing the time it takes. This Thanksgiving, I’ll be treating the cook time as a prescription to participate in the luxurious holiday activities that slip through the cracks the rest of the year: playing cards, lingering over the cheese tray while talking with my boyfriend, calling my family, maybe even taking a moment to think about what I'm thankful for.


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Tags: Boeuf Bourguignon, julia child, thanksgiving turkey