It’s December, and in the northern hemisphere, that means it’s time for rich, hearty foods that make you feel all warm and toasty inside. I can’t think of a meal that better represents this than a slow-simmered beef stew.
Don’t let the French name intimidate you. Yes, Boeuf Bourguignon is the classic French dish, made popular by Julia Child in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1*, but at its core, it’s beef stew, albeit slightly more refined with its pearl onions and an umami-rich sauce infused with wine and mushrooms. It’s beef stew, only better.
The version below is fairly faithful to Julia’s though I’ve simplified the instructions. This is not diet food; it’s stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. Don’t be put off by the bacon; it’s necessary to add the complex layers of flavor to this dish. If you must leave it out, you can replace the bacon fat and butter in the recipe with olive oil. The dish is traditionally served with boiled potatoes, but I prefer mashed potatoes (delicious with the sauce) and it also works well with rice, noodles, or by itself.
Julia recommends this dish be served with a “fairly full-bodied young red wine, such as Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux-St Emilion, or Burgundy”. If you want to stick to domestic wine (unless you live in France, and if so, lucky you!), I’d go with a Syrah, Pinot Noir or lighter Cabernet (I always have a glass while I’m cooking, a la Julia). As for the red wine used in cooking, pick something drinkable, but not expensive, and never, ever, use anything labeled “cooking wine”.
How to make Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Cooked in Red Wine)
Course: Main Course
Keyword: beef, stew
6ozthick cut baconcut into ¼” lardons (strips)
2.5-3poundsbeef stew meatcut into ½” cubes
¼teaspoonfreshly ground black pepper
1eachmedium yellow onionsliced
2eachmedium carrotspeeled and sliced on the diagonal
½ouncegarlicminced (about 3-4 cloves)
1bottledry red wineabout 3 cups
3cupsbeef stock or chicken stocksplit
20eachpearl onionsalso called boiling onions, peeled and blanched
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Heat a large heavy bottomed soup pot or Cast Iron Dutch Oven* over medium flame. Add the bacon pieces and cook until they begin to crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon when cooked and reserve to add back in later.
Pour off and reserve all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat and return the pan to the heat. Make sure the beef is patted dry with a paper towel or it will not properly brown. Season the beef with salt and pepper and add half of it to the bacon fat, searing it in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Cook, stirring every minute or so, until the beef is browned on all sides. Remove the cooked beef to a plate and repeat with the remaining meat, adding another tablespoon of the bacon fat if necessary. When the beef is done, set it aside while cooking the vegetables.
Add another tablespoon of the bacon fat to the pan, heat, and add the onions. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the onions begin to soften and then add the carrots and minced garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.
Return the seared beef to the pot with the cooked bacon. Sprinkle the meat with the flour over medium heat. Stir the pot until the flour begins to lightly brown.
Add the tomato paste to the pot, half of the fresh thyme and the bay leaf, and stir into the cooked vegetables and meat.
Add about a cup of the wine to the pan to deglaze the pan and let it cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the wine and enough of the stock (about 1.5 cups) to cover the meat. Bring the liquid back to a low simmer, cover the pot, and place it in the oven. The sauce will have thickened slightly from the flour.
Cook in the oven until the meat is tender, at least two to two and a half hours. Check every hour to make sure the sauce has not reduced too much. If needed, add just enough stock (or water if you run out) to keep the meat and vegetables covered.
While the beef is cooking, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil or butter and set aside.
If the pearl onions are not already peeled and cooked, blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute and then cool them in ice water. Cut the tips off each end and peel. Saute the peeled pearl onions in butter until lightly browned and then add a cup of chicken stock and cook until tender.
About 15 minutes before serving, or when reheating if serving later, fold the mushrooms and onions into the beef. These are added last because they would otherwise fall apart in the long cooking time. Sprinkle in the chopped parsley and remaining thyme right before serving.
Serve over mashed potatoes, noodles, rice or simply on its own with a nice glass of red wine.
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