The National Weather Service announced back in the fall of last year that winter here in the Pacific Northwet would be colder and wetter than normal, and they’d be right. We’ve had snow on the ground, in places, for weeks here already. Just north of us, ponds around Vancouver, B. C. have frozen hard enough to skate on for the first time in decades. This cold snap has, in fact, hit a lot of North America. I’m sure this is why I’m so obsessed with hearty, rich comfort foods right now – Stuff like Beef Bourguignon, France’s legendary beef stew.
Just reading the name Beef Bourguignon is enough to know it’s French, but more to the point, it’s from Bourgogne – Burgundy – And that’s what Bourguignon means, d’accord? About 100 km southeast of Paris and stretching for some 350 km toward Switzerland, Burgundy is crossed by a series of working canals, and rightfully famous for deep, complex red wines that bear the regions name, (as well as Pinot, Chardonnay, Chablis, and Beaujolais.) There are also stunningly lovely chateaus, legendary mustard from the regional capitol of Dijon, and Charolais cattle – Some of the finest beef in the world.
Late in the sultry month of August, the commune of Saulieu holds the Fête du Charolais, a paean to meat lovers, a celebration of Charolais beef featuring, naturellement, Boeuf Bourguignon. With a distinct taste reflecting its stunning terroir, Charolais beef has perfect tenderness that yields great beef bourguignon. All that said, most of us probably won’t have Charolais Beef available, (Although there are American Charolais cattle raisers out there, FYI.) Regardless of the beef you’ll use, when you combine it with wine, spirits, fresh veggies and herbs, you’ll be hard pressed to go wrong.
While the roots of beef bourguignon go far back in time, it was Auguste Escoffier who made it famous. Of course, dishes that would bear the Maestro’s stamp couldn’t be rustic, (perish the thought!), so his 1903 recipe upgraded the dish to haute cuisine, utilizing a rather large chunk of beef. It took Julia Child, some seventy years later, to return things back toward the rustic again, advocating the use of cubed stew beef.
Like so many iconic regional dishes, there really is no definitive beef bourguignon recipe, regardless of what anyone tells you – Including bourguignon chefs. Why? Because like spaghetti, or mac and cheese, everybody does it a bit differently – What goes into the mix is, as often as not, what’s good that day – And this is exactly as it should be. What is set in stone is the cooking process, and that’s what I’ll share with y’all today. I’ll also note that there are things assumed to be seminal to the recipe that just really aren’t – Mushrooms for one, and pearl onions for another – Sure, those can and should go in the pot if you like them and they’re readily at hand, but if they’re not, it doesn’t mean that what you’re making isn’t authentic.
The techniques employed to make beef bourguignon correctly are braising and stewing, and that requires a bit of clarification to separate those techniques from searing and roasting, their higher heat first cousins. Searing beef, to get a nice caramelized crust on it, is done in a dry pan over high heat. Braising, from the French verb braiser, is a semi-wet, medium heat cooking method, designed to brown meat and infuse it with the flavors of the wet adjuncts that share the pan. Stewing, when done in the oven or on the stove top, is a relatively low temperature, wet cooking process, while roasting is a high heat, dry method. The high heat techniques work best for lean cuts, (like a roast, of course). Tougher, fattier cuts benefit most from braising and stewing – The lower, slower methods that provide the time needed to break down connective tissue, making things nice and tender.
Here’s our take on this iconic dish. Feel free to make it yours. Pay attention to the techniques and the order of operation – That’ll get you where you want to go – And again, everything else is free reign. Take note of our choice for the spirit employed – We don’t have cognac in the house, and I ain’t buying it just for a recipe – You could use brandy, Armagnac, or frankly, any spirit that floats your boat – Bourbon would go great, too. Another case in point – We served ours over rice, while tradition holds that you use thick slices of good country bread rubbed with garlic – If I’d had good bread on hand, I’d have done that, but I didn’t, so – get the picture? Innovate, whenever you want to or must – A recipe is a template, not gospel, so tweak it to your liking. If parsnips or turnips or some other great winter root veggie floats your boat, throw it in there – It’ll still be tres bien when you’re done.
Beef Bourguignon a la UrbanMonique
1 Pound Stew Beef
4 slices thick cut Bacon
1 medium Sweet or Yellow Onion
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 Bottle Pinot Noir, (Yes, that’s what red Burgundy is, in fact)
2 Cups Beef Broth
1 1/2 Ounces Reposado Tequila
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 teaspoon Thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil, (Olive is just fine too.)
2 California Bay Leaves
1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 Tablespoon Wondra Flour
Rinse and peel carrots and onions.
Place the flat side of a chef’s knife on top of the garlic cloves and smack the blade with the palm of your hand to smash the garlic – It doesn’t need to be pulverized – you just want to get the skin loose. Peel and trim garlic.
Cut the onion in half, then cut each half into quarters. Carefully cut the carrots in half lengthwise, then into half rounds about 1/2″ thick. Mince the garlic.
Preheat oven to 250° F.
Place a Dutch oven, (or heavy stock pot with a tight fitting lid), over medium heat and add the oil – Allow to heat through.
Cut the bacon into lardons – Chunks about 1/2″ square.
Sauté the bacon in the oil until the lardons start to crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer the bacon onto a paper towel with a slotted spoon.
Add the beef to the hot fat and braise until the beef is lightly browned on all sides, about 3-5 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to transfer the meat onto the towel with the bacon.
If you’re left with a fair amount of beef juice and fat, as we were, carefully pour that into a small bowl and set aside.
Add another Tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven and allow to heat through.
Add the carrots and onions to the hot oil and sauté until the onions are slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 1 minute.
Add the tequila to the veggies and flambé (light it) to burn off the alcohol – Be careful – Don’t get your face or hands close to the Dutch oven when you do this!
With a wooden spoon, scrape all the dark stuff from the bottom of the Dutch oven.
Add the wine, beef, reserved beef juice and fat, and bacon back into the Dutch oven and stir.
Add enough beef stock to almost cover the mix.
Add the tomato paste, thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Stir to incorporate.
Cover the Dutch oven and place on a middle rack in your oven. Stew the bourguignon at 250° F for 75 to 90 minutes, until the meat and veggies are fork tender.
Remove from the oven and uncover. Combine butter and flour in a measuring cup, then add a cup or so of broth. Mix with a fork until the blend thickens. Pour back into the bourguignon and stir in thoroughly to incorporate.
Serve over crusty toasted bread rubbed with garlic, or rice, or egg noodles. Garnish with fresh parsley if you like.
Goes great with a glass of that red, and it’ll be spectacular the next day.
A NOTE ON THAT LAST PIC –
i posted this on social media, and a friend of a friend wrote this in responses – “I can tell you’re an accomplished chef, so why would you post such a poor picture of your work?”
It’s a fair question, so here’s the fair answer. This site is, as it’s subtitled, about real food in real kitchens. For a time, to get something accepted at the most swanky food porn sites required professional level photography – I for one think that’s total bullshit. I posted this because it’s the bowl I ate that night. Expecting all of my images to be professional, or all your meals to turn out incredibly photogenic, has nothing to do with cooking – certainly not at home. It sets up an impossible level of expectation that gets in the way of learning to cook. If and when presentation is important at home, we do it, but we do so because we like to, not because it must be done. This site is about real cooking, and real cooking isn’t always perfect. And besides, I’ll bet you’d bloody swoon over that bowl if I’d handed it to ya – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.