Bœuf Bourguignon

Enter bœuf bourguignon into an English-language search engine and you will find many minor variations of Julia Child’s classic from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. , 1961) 315-317. But type the same term into a French-language search engine and you will find a much richer variety of recipes. One that I found especially intriguing was Joue de Bœuf Bourguignon, beef cheeks, which strikes me as likely to be the original version of what is clearly a peasant dish. And the wine would likely have been equally modest, probably some that had passed beyond drinkability. The recipe here is one with a Québécois flair that I translated and adapted from the web site Femmes Québec (you can find the original here). Their introduction to the recipe sums up the dish perfectly: “This tasty dish is one of the most famous in French cuisine. You can prepare it in advance and keep in the refrigerator for a day or two before serving: it will never be better. Or you can freeze it in individual portions for a good month. Serve it with boiled potatoes, noodles, or rice as you wish.” Oh, and in case anyone asks, this is technically not a stew but a braise because it is cooked in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 3 rashers of bacon, about 2 ounces, cut crosswise into matchstick-sized pieces
  • Olive oil
  • 2 pounds lean beef, cut into 1 to 2-inch cubes, I use sirloin tip
  • 2 medium onions, about ½ pound, cut into ½-inch dice
  • 2 carrots, about 4 ounces, cut into ½-inch rounds  
  • ½ pound mushrooms, quartered
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup flour, I use white rice flour
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced, or 1 Tbsp. dried

Method

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Pat the beef cubes dry with paper towels; they will not brown properly unless they are completely dry.

Film the bottom of an enameled Dutch oven with a bit of olive oil and set over medium-high heat. When hot add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered out and it begins to crisp, about 4 or 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove the bacon, leaving as much fat as possible in the pot, and set aside.

Working in batches so that the beef cubes are in one layer and not crowded, brown the meat well on all sides, about 5 minutes, adding a bit of olive oil between batches if needed. Remove each batch to a bowl. Do not be tempted to rush this step; thorough browning ensures the best flavor.

Turn the heat down to medium and adjust the oil in the pan. Sweat the onions and carrots for 3 minutes then add the mushrooms and salt. Sauté, stirring often, for another 5 minutes or until the mushrooms become fragrant and begin to give up their liquid. Remove the vegetables and mushrooms to bowl and set aside.

Turn off the heat and return the beef cubes to the pot. Sprinkle on the flour and mix with a wooden spoon to coat the meat evenly. Pour on the wine and stock. They should just cover the meat. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and black pepper. Return the mushrooms and vegetables to the pot along with the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in bottom of the oven for 2 hours. Add the parsley before serving. If using dried parsley let it sit in the broth for about 10 minutes to rehydrate.

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