Monday, February 7, 2011

Step-by-Step Recipe (sort of): Beef Bourguignon

If you've seen the movie Julie & Julia, then you already know that Julia Childs' recipe for beef bourguignon (boeuf bourguignon, en français) is sorta famous.  And known for being delicious.  Well, for Christmas in 2009, I received not one, but three copies of Julia Childs' famed cookbook (actually the set of both volumes), containing this recipe (hey, my friends and family know me well--they just didn't coordinate).  So last March, I volunteered to make this for my husband for his birthday, as we had tried the traditional dish during our visit to Burgundy, the region of Franch from whence this dish came, on our honeymoon.  I also made roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a birthday cake.  The entire meal took me about 7 hours in the kitchen. By the time the meal was ready, I was exhausted, disheveled, and thoroughly disgusted.  "That movie lies!" I crowed to my husband.  They make it seem like all you do is stir the stew!  Then put it in the oven!  And voilà!"  And that is simply not how you make Julia's boeuf bourguignon.

Boeuf bourguigon is essentially French beef stew.  After browning the pieces of beef and sauteeing some of the veggies, you let it all braise in the oven in a whole bunch of red wine (and beef stock).  Let me be clear that this was, by far, the best beef stew I'd ever had.  But after 7 hours in the was hard to even acknowledge that.  I vowed never to make the dish again, and haven't cracked my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking since then. When I think about it, I just remember dirtying virtually every pot and pan in our kitchen, and following Julia's steps thinking, "Why, Julia, why?  WHY does the sauce need to be strained and cooked separately?  WHY do the pearl onions need to be braised separately in red wine?  WHY???"

Nearly a year later, I was contemplating what to make for a weekend dinner for my husband, myself, and another couple.  I have a history of stressing myself out by making new or complicated recipes for guests, ignoring my guests, and then not enjoying myself at all.  I've worked on this for years, and in the last couple of years, have learned valuable lessons about testing recipes before serving them to guests, making things that don't require a lot of last minute work, and making things that are hard to screw up.  So I thought I'd make a braised meat dish, as such recipes require most of the "hard" work on the front end, with a couple of hours spent in the oven, meaning that when my guests arrived, my house would smell great, and I'd be relaxed and
refreshed.  Someone had also mentioned to me that they'd seen Ina Garten (of the Barefoot Contessa cooking show on the Food Network) make a variation of beef bourguignon that seemed easier than Julia's.  I pooh-poohed the idea at first...despite the hours of labor required to make Julia's recipe, I was still very proud to have done it, and considered it to be the signature bourguignon recipe.  But I really like Ina Garten's cooking style and recipes, sooo...I gave it a try.

The verdict?  It was MUCH easier than Julia's recipe.  Still not the easiest thing ever, but easier.  And delicious.  SO delicious.  I'd be hard pressed to say which recipe was better.  And my husband thought Ina's recipe was better, if only because it wasn't tainted by the bitter feelings of the chef (me).  This is a recipe I'll make again. (Not often, because the sheen of bacon grease left on every surface in the kitchen is not something I want to clean up very often, but again.)

Recipe and photos under the cut.

Sorry, no picture of the cast of characters this time. No good excuse except that I forgot.

The first cooking step is to brown the bacon and render the fat.  Heat a large Dutch oven (or French oven, in my case) over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, let it get hot, and then add the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp.  Remove the bacon to a large plate or platter.

Add the beef (dried and seasoned) to the Dutch oven in a single layer.  Brown on all sides in batches, about 3-5 minutes per batch (I did three batches--this picture is from the third batch, hence the dark color on the bottom of the Dutch oven).

Put the seared beef on the same plate as the bacon.  Add the carrots and sliced onions to the pot.  Cook until the onions start to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook one more minute.

Return the beef and bacon to the pot.  Add the wine and beef broth.  Add the tomato paste and thyme.

Stir and bring to a simmer.  Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.  Cook in the oven for 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours, until the beef and vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork.

Combine 2 tablespoons of the butter with the flour.  Add to the stew and stir.  Add the frozen onions and stir.  Meanwhile, sautee the mushrooms in butter until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.  (You really shouldn't crowd them in the pan like this, but I only have two large burners on my stove, and they were both in use, between the stew and the boiling water for the egg noodles.)

Add the mushrooms to the stew.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve!  Bon appetit!

I served the stew with buttered egg noodles.  Much easier to make than mashed potatoes, and to be honest, as much as I love mashed potatoes (and oh, do I), I liked this better.  I obviously skipped the bread for serving, though I did serve slices of whole wheat baguette to sop up the stew, and that seemed good to me!  I also skipped the cognac (and the resulting flames) that Ina's recipe calls for, because 1) we don't keep cognac in the house, and 2) I am afraid of fire.  There is also what seems to me to be a typo in the recipe on the Food Network website (250 degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes will not have a good result, I don't think)--others who reviewed the recipe on the website said the same thing, and I made small adjustments to the cooking temperatature and time, listed below.  Otherwise, I followed it as written.

Beef Bourguignon, recipe adapted from Ina Garten 
Serves: 6-8. Time: 3 hours (30-45 minutes prep time, 2 hours in the oven, another 30 minutes on the back end)


  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 8 ounces dry cured center cut smoked bacon, diced
  • 2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir (I used a true Burgundy wine)
  • 1 can (2 cups) beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound frozen whole onions
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
  • Fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
  3. Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
  4. Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
  5. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.
  7. Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions.
  8. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew.
  9. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
  10. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles.

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