The recent cool evening temperatures have inspired me to prepare one of my favorite rustic-style foods from the French countryside. Pieces of beef, slowly simmered in an aromatic mix of beef stock, burgundy wine, carrots, pearl onions, and mushrooms create the legendary stew we know as Beef Bourguignon.
Beef bourguignon is one of many examples of peasant dishes that have been slowly refined into haute cuisine. The particular method of slowly simmering beef in wine originated as a means of tenderizing cuts of meat that would have been too tough to cook any other way. Over time, the dish has become a standard of French cuisine. Brought into the spotlight by Julia Child on her first episode of The French Chef, this delicious stew has graced the tables of many families. In Julia’s book Mastering the art of French Cooking, she describes the dish as “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man”.
To prepare Beef Bourguignon:
Cooks note: This recipe is based on Julia’s dish, however it has been modified to require less time and keep all the flavors.
- ½ pound of bacon, rendered and reserved
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 ½ – 3 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1 ½ – 2 inch cubes
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 cups full-bodied red wine, (plus some for the cook)
- 3 cups beef stock
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1 bay leaf, crumbled
- ½ cup pearl onions
- 1 cup mushrooms, quartered
Begin by heating the oven to 450° F. In a large skillet, cook the strips of bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon, crumble, and set aside. Transfer the bacon grease into a heavy oven-proof casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid (cast iron or Le Creuset work well).
Cut the roast into 1½ to 2 inches pieces. (the larger the pieces the longer the cooking time will be. Pieces smaller that 1½ inches will most likely fall apart and disappear). Place the casserole dish containing the bacon grease on a burner over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the bacon fat and heat until almost smoking. Add the pieces of beef and brown all sides (work in batches so as not to crowd the meat).
Remove the beef from the pan and lightly season with salt and pepper (go light on the salt, beef stock is high in sodium. remember salt is easy to add and hard to remove). Dredge the beef while still hot in flour. Dust off any excess flour and hold meat aside.
Add the carrots and onion to the the hot oil and cook until onions begin to turn translucent.
Add the meat back to the onion and carrot mixture and toss well. Place in the oven for about 4 minutes. Remove from the oven, mix well, and place dish back in the oven for another 4 minutes (this allows the flour to brown and covers the meat with a fine crust).
Reduce the oven temperature to 325° F. Place the dish back on the stove over medium high heat. Add wine, beef stock, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Stir well and bring to a slow boil.
Skim off any excess fat with a spoon. Mix well, and cover the dish with the lid, and place in the oven for 3 hours (just leave it alone, it is important not to open the oven or remove the lid). Add onions, mushrooms, and bacon. Cover and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
At the end of the cooking time, the sauce will have reduced and the beef will be fork tender.
Serve over noodles or sliced potatoes with a side of fresh peas for a traditional French country meal. Some French bread might also come in handy to mop up every last drop of the delicious sauce. As Julia would say “Bon Appétit”.