|Confession Time: Those vegetables that look like potatoes?|
They are potatoes served alongside the dish the night before.
Since I didn’t get a photograph then, this picture was taken the next day
with the leftovers potatoes added to the stew.
When we entertain, I love to do things that will keep me out of the kitchen once the guests have arrived. And in winter, a great braise is a perfect way to do it. And if you’re choosing a great beef dish, Boeuf Bourguignon is an obvious choice. However, who can forget Julie and Julia, the movie where the young blogger cooks her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking? In case you have forgotten, Julie was doing fine until the day she arrived at Julia’s recipe for Beef Bourguignon. There she failed miserably. I am not entirely sure of the details but Julie fell asleep and the stew went awry. As ridiculous as it sounds, that scared me off Julia’s recipe. Instead, I pulled out Saveur’s “The New Comfort Food. Home Cooking from around the World” (Chronicle Books 2011). I have used this cookbook with great success. In fact, I find Saveur and James Oseland, editor of both this book and the magazine, are completely trustworthy where recipes are concerned. This recipe was listed as “Burgundy-Style Beef Stew”. There’s not necessarily a lot different about it from the recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. At least there wasn’t until I started fiddling with it.
Traditional Beef Bourguignon stews along with carrots and celery and onions for several hours. Then the meat is removed from the pot and the entire contents—wine, beef broth, and the vegetables—are meant to be put through a fine mesh strainer, the solids removed altogether. The gravy is then thickened via another 10 to 12 minutes on the stove. The onions and mushrooms, cooked on their own, are added to the dish and it is ready to serve. However, when I got to the instruction about straining the vegetables, I looked into the pot. I loved seeing the color of the carrots and the dash of green of the celery. I couldn’t think of a reason to make the dish monochromatically brown. I left the vegetables in. They took away absolutely nothing. I think they made the dish far more attractive and the mushrooms and pearl onions didn’t seem to mind at all.
Before we get to the actual recipe, here are some things you should know. First, never buy pre-cut pieces of anything labelled ‘stewing beef’. For one thing, these pieces tend to be much smaller than they should be. A really great stew should be made of two-inch cubes of beef. The second problem with ‘stewing beef’ is that you have no clue what part of the animal the pieces represent. Could be the toughest of all cuts for all we know. For truly great beef stew you really need to use a cut that is, frankly, a little fatty. A beef Chuck Roast, which is never terribly expensive, is ideal for this recipe. Cut it into cubes by yourself. Another cut which is exceptional for stewing is the boneless short ribs you can find at Costco. The next pieces of advice are very important. When you cut up your roast or short ribs, dry them with paper towel. They will cook far more successfully if you do. Second, as tedious as it sounds, you must brown the beef in hot oil in batches where none of the pieces touch each other. If they do touch, you are in danger of not browning the meat but steaming it. To get the maximum beef flavor you want to achieve something called the Maillard reaction. This is a complicated chemical reaction that happens when you brown food properly. I’ll spare you the details but almost all the flavor of the beef comes from proper browning. Once the meat is browned, the dish is almost unbelievably easy. You just put everything into the pot and put it in the oven. When it’s almost time to serve, the onions and mushrooms are sautéed in a little butter. If you have a warming oven, you can do this in advance. Then it’s ready to serve. And my, is it good! Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Burgundy Beef Stew adapted from James Oseland’s “Saveur. The New Comfort Food”
8 ounces thick slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch slices
and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 1/2 lbs trimmed boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
fresh ground black pepper
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 celery rib, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 cups beef stock or 2 cups veal stock
1 (750 ml) bottle full-bodied red wine, such as merlot
1 bouquet garni (1 sprig each parsley and thyme and 1 bay leaf,
tied together with kitchen twine)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 ounces button mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
32 white pearl onions,* peeled
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, for garnish
*Use defrosted Frozen Pearl Onions and you won’t have to peel a thing.
Preheat oven to 325°.
Cook bacon in an 8-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 20 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; pour off all but 2 tbs of the rendered fat.
Increase heat to med-high and add the oil to the Dutch oven.
Working in batches, add the beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook, turning occasionally, until the beef is browned on all sides, 5-6 minutes.
Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside.
Add the carrots, onions, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and browned, about 7 minutes.
Stir in the tomato paste and garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Return the beef to the pot along with any juices, sprinkle with flour, and stir until the ingredients are well coated with flour.
Add the stock, wine, and bouquet garni.
Cover and transfer to the oven, and cook until the beef is tender,
2 1/2-3 hours.
Meanwhile, melt 1 tbs butter in a 12-inch skillet over med-high heat.
Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are soft and golden brown, 10-12 minutes.
Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
Add 1 tbs butter to the skillet along with the pearl onions and 2 tbs water.
Cover partially and cook until the water evaporates and the onions are tender, about 4 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking onions, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, 2-3 minutes. Transfer onions to the bowl with the mushrooms and cover to keep warm. Remove the beef from the oven. Taste for seasoning adding more salt and pepper if needed.
To serve, divide the stew between 8 serving bowls and pour some sauce over each serving. Divide the bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions evenly between the bowls, and garnish with the parsley leaves.
Serve with crusty bread.