This is one of my favorite examples of a peasant dish evolving into gourmet fare. Come to think of it, that sounds like a mantra for much of my cooking.
So when I was thinking of a simple beef stew for dinner and I couldn’t seem to get too excited, I thought to myself, what would Julia Child do?
And the answer was obvious.
When beef stew is in the oven, all’s right with the world, and beef Bourguignon is the best beef stew known to man.
— Julia Child
Julia’s recipe, which I took today from my dog-eared copy of The French Chef Cookbook, first calls for a chunk of un-smoked, unsalted lean pork belly. But she gives a marvelous alternative method that I follow.
Use good quality regular bacon, cut into 1 x 1/4 inch pieces, and simmer them in water for 10 minutes. Then rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. This leeches a lot of the smoked flavor and leaves you with a perfectly nice substitute.
Then cook that up in a good-sized fry pan and remove the pieces to a paper towel to set aside for later. I used a slotted spoon. We’re going to brown the cubed beef in that pork fat.
Do not cut the meat too small. The cubes should be as close to 2 to 3 inches square as possible. By cutting them all about the same size, they’ll cook at roughly the same rate.
Using a good long pair of tongs (bacon fat can splatter), brown each piece of beef on all sides. Do this is reasonably small batches — it won’t take long. As they’re finished cooking, put them in your 4-quart or larger oven-proof dutch oven.
Discard whatever liquid is left. Add some red wine to the pan to deglaze it, scraping off the fond (those lovely brown bits of meat stuck to the pan) with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Pour that into the dutch oven with the now-browned beef. Add the rest of the wine, bacon pieces, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.
Add enough of the beef stock to cover the meat. Give it a good stirring.
Bring all that to a simmer on the stove over medium-high heat.
Now cover it and into the oven for 2-1/2 to 3 hours until the beef is tender enough for a fork to pierce it with almost no resistance.
Remove the stems from your mushrooms and cut them as necessary into bite-sized pieces. Then quarter the caps.
Heat the oil and butter (the same pan you used before is fine, wiped out) over medium heat. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. We’re going for lightly-browned not fully-cooked. Remove to a bowl and toss with the bit of salt.
I found organic pearl onions at the grocery but I’ve also used baby (or young) onions from the local farmers market when in season.
To peel, blanch these in simmering water for a minute, drain, and rinse with a bit of cold water so you can handle them easily. Cut the top of the onion off with a paring knife, squeeze the bottom and sides to remove the peel, and trim off the bottom. Once you’ve done it a couple of times it’s easy.
Into the pan they go along with the butter, salt, and enough water to come half-way up the onions. Over medium heat, cover the pan and let them simmer for 20 minutes or until they’re tender. Set them aside as well but save that cooking water!
When the meat is done cooking…
drain the liquid in the dutch oven to a large saucepan. I followed Julia’s advice and just set the lid askew a bit. Add the mushrooms and onions to the pot.
In the saucepan, add the onion cooking water and bring that to a gentle boil.
Combine the softened butter and the flour in a small bowl and mix them together with a spatula, spoon, or a fork. Then ladle a few spoonfuls from the saucepan into that bowl and mix with a fork or a whisk until it’s very smooth. Keep adding a few spoonfuls and whisking until it’s basically a thick liquid. Stirring that saucepan, slowly add this bowl’s mix in.
If you add it too fast or didn’t mix it enough, you’ll end up with a bunch of floating lumps of buttered-flour. That’s no good. Spoon those back into the bowl and whisk it again. Try again.
Now add the sauce to the pot and gently stir.
Bring the pot to a simmer for 5 minutes to get everything blended and up to temperature.
Serve with noodles, potatoes, rice, or even gnocchi. A green salad or vegetable on the side.
Boeuf Bourguignon -- Beef Stewed in Red Wine
When beef stew is in the oven, all's right with the world, and beef Bourguignon is the best beef stew known to man. -- Julia Child. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 6 ounces bacon
- olive oil
- 3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-3 inch chunks
- 3 cups full-bodied, young red wine (Burgundy is traditional.)
- 2 cups beef stock or broth
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2-3 garlic cloves, mashed
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- salt as necessary
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms
- 1/2 tablespoon oil
- 1-1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 18-24 small white onions 1-inch diameter
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons flour
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Cut the bacon into 1 x 1/4 inch pieces (lardons). If smoked (as most bacon is), then add it to a pan of simmering water for 10 minutes, drain, and pat dry.
- Render the bacon in a fry pan until just cooked and remove to a paper towel to drain. Add a bit of oil to the pan if necessary to coat the bottom (but there should be enough bacon fat).
- Working in small batches as needed, brown and sear the cubed beef on all sides, turning frequently. Remove to the dutch oven as you go.
- Once done, discard the extra fat from the fry pan and then deglaze it with some of the wine, scraping the fond from the bottom.
- Add the fry pan's contents, the rest of the wine, the bacon pieces, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and a bit of salt to the pot with the beef.
- Bring the contents of the pot to a simmer on the stove, then cover and place in the oven for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until the beef is tender. A fork should pierce it with almost no resistance.
- Anytime while the beef is cooking, in the same fry pan as before (wiped out), add the oil and butter and cut mushrooms to the pan. Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to a bowl, toss with the salt, and set aside for later.
- Peel the onions.
- Add to the fry pan along with the butter, salt, and enough water to come half-way up the onions. Cover the pan and let them cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Remove the onions to the same bowl as the mushrooms and save the cooking water from the fry pan.
- Once the meat is done cooking, drain the liquid into a large saucepan and add the onion's cooking water.
- Bring to a simmer.
- Combine the butter and flour in a bowl with a fork or a spatula until well-mixed.
- Add a few spoonfuls of the cooking liquid to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Continue adding liquid and whisking until the mix is pourable and smooth.
- Add the butter flour mix slowly to the saucepan, stirring continuously.
- Add the mushrooms and onions to the pot with the beef.
- Pour the sauce over top.
- Cover the pot and simmer on the stove for 5 minutes. Stir periodically.
Serve with potatoes, noodles, or rice and a green salad or vegetable.