Honoring France with Boeuf Bourguignon

This post is a dedication to the people of France, Lebanon, and Iraq in the wake of the tragic attacks of November 13, 2015. Lest Beirut and Baghdad’s losses be dwarfed, the CD will post future Lebanese and Iraqi recipes; stay tuned! May we all stand firm against hate and fear. May we all show love – and possibly a bit of culinary diplomacy – to those in need around the world.

  
Boeuf Bourguignon, or Beef Burgundy, may sound like a fine, complicated example of French hautê cuisine. At its most basic, however, the dish is simply a French country stew. Much like its Belgian/Flemish counterpart, Carbonnade (replace wine with beer), an American Yankee Pot Roast, or even a distant south Asian curry, boeuf Bourguignon is a peasant’s soul food, transforming inexpensive, poorer cuts of meat and simple ingredients into something much greater than its components with a gravy you almost want to drink, it is so delicious. Through braising – slow cooking the meat immersed in liquid – and the labor involved in doing so, this stew turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. The result is a velvety stew with a meaty gravy. A generous use of wine becomes mellow with time and rounded out with root vegetables and mushrooms. Through the human hand, nature becomes greater. How rarely do we see such examples these days?

French cooking has instilled fear in many a home cook; however, it need not do so. With a bit of preparation, and a decent amount of time, you can make this dish! If you look at the process as a sequence of steps, it won’t seem quite so daunting:

Step 1: Browning

  

In this step, the meat and veggies are seared in fat with high heat to cook and crisp their exterior surfaces. Both the stove top and oven play a role in this process.

Step 2: Braising
   

  
Liquid – in this case, wine and stock – is added and used to cook the meat and veggies over low and slow heat. This process spans several hours, but it requires very little attention and effort on your part.

Step 3: Vegetables and assembly
  Pearl onions and mushrooms are cooked separately in a bit of fat and eventually, added to the stew.

Step 4 (optional): Thicken/finish the stew
  
Using flour to make a roux, the stew can be thickened, or uncovered to allow the liquid to reduce, if desired.

So set aside your culinary fears and make a bit of French comfort food to bring together your family or friends!

Tips:
-I have an aversion to pork, so I substituted turkey bacon. It is leaner than true pork bacon, so I had to add extra virgin olive oil to sear the beef. After the bacon is braised for several hour, it loses its flavor, so I discarded it (since it no longer adds any positive value).
-The original recipe called for only one carrot, which I found too meager. I recommend three large carrots to add more color, texture, and nutrition.
-Finally, a horrible bottle of cheap wine can be put to good use! I used an American table wine (Two-buck Chuck) in the style of a Beaujolais Nouveau – nope, not a Burgundy! Save the good stuff to pair with the meal as a beverage.

-To ensure a proper braise without the watched pot, transfer to a slow cooker/Crock Pot instead of the 325 degree oven. Use a high heat setting for an hour or so if possible, and then reduce heat to low for 2-3 more hours (or cook all day).

-If you need to remain gluten free, omit the flour and the last step; the stew will be a bit thinner but still delicious.

-Serve the stew with a starch. Traditionally, potatoes would be served, but I prefer something more nutritious, so I used leftover roasted and mashed cauliflower. You could also try roasted sweet potatoes or puréed celeriac (celery root).

Boeuf Bourguignon

  • Servings: 8+
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

Adapted from Julia Child and “The Answer is Always Pork” http://theanswerisalwayspork.com/julia-childs-beef-bourguignon/

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. bacon
  • 3 lbs. beef stew meat, cubed (about 2″)
  • 3 large carrots, chopped roughly (about 1″ or so)
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced roughly
  • 2-4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 2 cups (or more) plus 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme, divided in half
  • 20 pearl onions
  • 3 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 lb. mushrooms (Cremini preferred), rinsed and quartered.
  • 2 Tbsp. flour, optional

Step 1: Browning
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

  If bacon is purchased in a slab, slice in large pieces (do not dice); if already pre-sliced, do not slice further. In a large pot (cast iron or ceramic – like Le Creuset work best), brown (sear) the bacon on the stove top over medium high to high heat. If it begins to smoke, add a small amount of olive oil to prevent burning. Once each side is brown and begins to crisp, remove from heat with a slotted spoon, leaving as much bacon fat as possible in the pot. Do not reduce the heat. If oil does not coat the pan, add olive oil gradually to coat.

  
Next, pat the beef to dry as much as possible using a paper towel. In batches, arrange beef cubes in a single layer in the pot; sear and brown each surface of the cube (about 2 minutes per side); then remove the cubes and set them aside while browning additional batches. Make sure to leave as much fat as possible in the pot for the next batch. Add more oil as needed, making sure the beef does not stick and burn. Once finished, remove the remaining browned meat, while retaining the oil/fat.

  
Brown the chopped onions and carrot by cooking in the same pot over medium-high heat, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Add the beef and bacon back to the pot. Toss in about 1 Tbsp. flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and pepper to coat the mixture. Cover and place in the 450 degree oven. Bake for 4 minutes; remove from oven; toss the mixture again and return to oven for another 4 minutes. Remove.

If you plan to braise the meat in the oven (and not, instead, using a slow cooker), reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees at this point. If using a slow cooker, turn off oven.

Step 2: Braising
Return the pot to the stove top on medium heat. Add the red wine and beef stock; stir to incorporate. Add the tomato paste, garlic, one bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp. thyme (if using fresh thyme, chop and double the amount). Bring the mixture to a simmer; cover and cook for about 15 minutes.

If braising in the oven, cover the pot and place it back in the now 325 degree oven. Cook for 2-3 hours.

If using a slow cooker/Crock Pot, transfer the stew to the slow cooker’s bowl; turn on the unit. If you must leave unattended for an extended period of time, use a low heat setting and cook for 5+ hours. If you are able, cook over high heat for 90 minutes to two hours; add the pearl onions (see instructions below), reduce heat setting to low and cook for 2 or more hours on low.

Step 3: Vegetables and Assembly
While the meat undergoes the slow braise, cook the Pearl onions: If using fresh Pearl onions, peel them. An easy way to do so is to first bring about a quart of water to a boil in a clean saucepan. Add the onions and blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain and remove the onions. Cut the tip of one end of each onion and gently squeeze each onion out of its skin. You can also rub the skin off with dish towels. Cut off the root ends and set aside.

If using the slow cooker, you can reuse the original stew pot to cook the onions; just discard or gently wipe out any pieces of yellow onion or meat left in the pot. Add 1 Tbsp. of butter and heat on high. Once the butter has melted and begun to sizzle, add the peeled pearl onions to the pot and brown. Add about 1/2 cup beef stock, and the remaining bay leaf and thyme. Toss to coat and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Add to the braising stew mixture up to 2 hours before serving or storage.

While the stew continues to cook, rinse and quarter the mushrooms. Over medium heat (reuse the same pot used for the onions), melt 2 Tbsp. butter until sizzling. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt to draw liquid out of the mushrooms and provide additional liquid to cook the mushrooms. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes until the mushrooms have reduced in volume by about half. Remove the lid and simmer on low heat for another 5-10 minutes to allow some of the liquid to reduce.

About an hour prior to serving, you may add the mushrooms to the rest of the stew. Meanwhile, prepare your starch (boil, roast, and/or mash potatoes or substitute (see Tips, above).

Step 4 (Optional): Thicken the stew
If you need not stay gluten free, make a roux to thicken the stew. add about 2 Tbsp. flour to a small, dry bowl. spoon about 1/3 cup of the hot stew liquid (avoid the solid ingredients) into the bowl and whisk thoroughly until a smooth paste is formed. Gradually ladle another 1/2 cup (give or take) of hot stew liquid into the paste and whisk again. Gradually whisk/stir in the roux into the stew pot until fully incorporated. Simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken if desired.

Store leftovers in airtight containers. This dish is one for which leftovers are as good – if not better than freshly prepared!

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