As the weather begins to cool, I find that its time to think about warming foods, hearty foods and perhaps, most importantly, what to serve at dinner parties that will impress, will wow, that can double as a Sunday dinner, or even work for a holiday, like Christmas.
Enter beef bourguignon, the long-simmering French delicacy, a hearty beef stew made with a base of red wine (typically, burgundy), that takes hours to make and longer to simmer but is well worth the wait. Like most stews, it tastes even better the next day.
This French stew gets much of its richness from browning the beef before it goes into a pot, which then goes into the oven, for the long simmer (two to three hours). The rest comes from the wine that serves as the stew’s base, three cups of a full-bodied young red wine, like Chianti.
So too does richness come from pork fat, added in the form of blanched bacon, put in boiling water to remove its signature smoky taste.
Really, though, the richness in the recipe comes from a whole host of places. So too does it come from the pound of fresh mushrooms, sautéed in butter, and the small white onions, braised in stock.
The mushrooms, and onions, have their own set of instructions in the recipe, and should be done while the stew is in the oven.
When done correctly, the mushrooms will be lightly brown and will not exude their juices while being cooked. For this to happen, the mushrooms need to be dry, the butter needs to be very hot and the mushrooms can’t be crowded in the pan. Sauté too many at once, and they steam, instead of browning. If you don’t have a large enough pan or a hot enough stove, consider making the mushrooms in multiple batches.
The cooking for this recipe is done in either a large casserole dish (I’m a fan of enameled cast iron, like Le Creuset or Lodge), for the stew proper, or in large skillet, for the mushrooms and onions.
While it might be a stew, most of the long cooking time is spent in a casserole dish or pot in the oven. This is done to create a more uniform heating, rather than just the heating element at the bottom of the pot.
This recipe should serve six, with a basic ratio of 1 pound of beef per two people.
Julia Childs writes in “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” that beef bourguignon is typically served with boiled potatoes, but buttered noodles work as well. Personally, I enjoy some warm bread, either a crusty sourdough or a French baguette, with a little butter.
6 slices bacon, cut into small strips or cubes
3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds stewing beef, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large white onion, sliced
1 pinch coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups red wine
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves smashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
For the onions
18 – 24 small pearl onions
½ cup chicken stock, white wine or water
2 tablespoons butter
1 herb bouquet (4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf)
For the mushrooms
1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
Salt and pepper
Remove rind from the bacon and cut bacon into sticks 1 ½ inches long. Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 ½ quarts of water. Drain and dry. Skip this step to retain some smoky flavor in the stew.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a 9- to 10-inch fireproof casserole, at least 3 inches deep, Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.
Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables (but not the mushrooms or pear onions). Pour out the sautéing fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the meat lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in the lower third of the preheated oven. Regulate heat, so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 ½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
For the onions, place them in a saucepan or skillet with ½ cup white wine or chicken stock. The butter and the herb bouqet. Cover and simmer very slowly, rolling the pearl onions in the pan periodically, for 40-50 minutes. The onions be tender but keep their shape. Add more liquid if it all evaporates. Remove the herb bouqet and reserve.
For the mushrooms, put a skillet on high heat with the butter (2 tablespoons) and oil. Once the butter foam subsides, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake in the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. In the first few minutes, they should absorb the fat, which will reappear on the surface as they begin to brown. Once browned, remove to a separate dish until later on.
When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. The recipe may be completed in advance to this point.
For immediate serving: Covet the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.
For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.
Adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering The Art of French Cooking”