The one and only Julia Child was often quoted as saying her favorite dish of all time was Boeuf Bourguignon, and who amongst us can refute the opinion of the iconic, influential, (and most likely) original celebrity chef? Ms. Child’s lessons embraced not just classic french dishes, opening up a whole new world to 1960s America, but instead of lots of “Bams!” and British beratings, Ms. Child chose to teach with wit, charm, skill and, of course, a full glass of wine.
I bring this all up because a cursory google search of Boeuf Bourguignon will bring you countless postings of her classic recipe, known worldwide from her book Mastering The Art of French Cooking. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid recipe. But ever the iconoclast, I am going to present you with my own take on the French classic. With a little preparation and time management, I promise you will be serving your guests a Boeuf Bourguignon that will knock their socks off!
As winter approaches, soups, stews, and braises become the prevalent choice for warm and delicious evening meals, so without further ado, let’s get to braising.
It’s important to get the right ingredients before you begin. Of utmost importance is a nice quality piece of Beef Chuck with good marbling (lines of fat running through the meat, making it not too lean but not to fatty—your butcher can help with this.) Second is to get a high-quality Beef Stock. I recommend “Stock Options” brand. It has a very low salt content and a good amount of gelatin that you will not find in other beef broths.
To get started, you will need:
3 lb well-marbled beef chuck
1 large carrot, peeled
1 celery stick
1-2 small yellow onions, skins left on
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
a small bunch fresh thyme—tied with twine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 slice bacon, 1/2” thick
salt and pepper
One full bottle of Underwood Pinot Noir
28 oz Stock Options Beef Stock
Carefully cut the beef into several large, evenly-sized chunks. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a cold, high-sided, thick-bottomed pot, add 2 TBS of olive oil and the bacon. Starting with a cold pan and cooking on medium heat will ensure the bacon can render its fat without burning. Once the bacon has a nice color, remove from the pan, increase heat and when the pot is just about smoking, add half the pieces of beef. Sear well on each side. Repeat with the rest of the meat. Set aside.
In the same pan, place the onion halves, cut side down, the carrots, celery, and garlic and sauté without burning until the color is developed. Set aside. (I keep the pieces fairly large, as they will be removed once the meat is fully cooked.) While the pan is still hot, carefully pour the full bottle of Pinot Noir into the hot pan. Scrape up any of the delicious brown bits (called frond) from the bottom of the pan, as this will add immense flavor to your sauce.
Once the wine boils, add the beef stock and tomato paste. While this is coming to a boil, arrange all ingredients into a baking dish, making sure not to crowd the meat. Pour the hot liquid into the pan. The liquid should just about cover all the ingredients.
Cut a piece of parchment paper to loosely cover the baking dish. Some recipes will tell you to cover tightly with tin foil, but I prefer to leave some breathing room to color the meat and help reduce the sauce.
Bake for about 2 1/2 hours. About halfway through, gently flip all the pieces of meat in the pan, re-cover and return to the oven.
Once the meat is tender to the touch, remove the pan from the oven and let sit for 20 minutes until cool enough to handle. At this point, very gently remove each piece of meat to a large Tupperware container and strain the sauce over the meat, removing all vegetables, herbs, etc. Those can be composted.
I try to do all of this a day before eating so that the cooked meat can sit in the sauce overnight. If not serving immediately, it is important to keep the cooked meat covered in sauce, or the meat will dry out.
When you are ready to serve, sauté peeled Cipollini onions for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and sauté whole Cremini mushrooms for 5 minutes. Place meat, sauce, onions, and mushrooms in a new braising dish and place in a 350-degree oven, uncovered, for about 25 minutes until everything is hot and the sauce has reduced slightly.
Serve over your choice of mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes or egg noodles.
Since we began with Julia Child, I feel it is only fitting to finish this post quoting the ending of her final book, My Life In France:
“…thinking back on it now reminds that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite –
toujours bon appétit!”