Today, Julia Child would have been 100 years old.
Few recipes exemplify the Child’s talents as a teacher, chef, and lover of French cuisine than this recipe for Bouef Bourguignon – the classic French peasant beef stew in red wine with bacon, onions and mushrooms. There are good reasons Child debuted her television program The French Chef with this recipe.
Instructionally, it offers the basic techniques that can also be used for other dishes like Coq au Vin (use chicken instead of beef) and Boeuf Catalan (rice is added to the sauce while cooking).
The sauce created in this recipe is magic, and demonstrates the value of cooking with wine if done correctly. Boeuf Bourguignon also captures what Julia Child was attempting to do with her television program and first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) – at a time when frozen foods had become all the rage and French cuisine was the domain of the wealthy who had servants and ate out at expensive restaurants, this rich stew can easily be made at home with a bit of patience and technique.
The first time I cooked this, it took me quite a bit of time. There’s a lot of chopping involved, and I found myself frequently having to refer back to the recipe not wanting to muck it up. Now a regular dish in my repertoire, it takes very little time at all, and it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe. Remember, she’s teaching skills here, and this isn’t about fast food.
Before launching into the recipe, a few tips that set Child’s Bouef Bourguignon apart from all the other recipes out there for this dish.
- To brown food (meat, mushrooms, onions, etc.), dry the ingredients with a towel and don’t overcrowd the pan. Child was one of the first to offer this incredibly important bit of kitchen wisdom.
- Finding slab or chunk bacon can be a challenge. I actually went to several good markets and asked at the meat counter if they had slab bacon. They inevitably looked at me quizzically. This is what happens when most of the meat comes to us prepackaged… but I digress. That’s the subject for another article. I finally found some at a Polish meat market just north of town and buy large quantities to freeze for various recipes. The slab make better lardons and matches the heartiness of the dish. If you can’t find it, use any interesting unflavored thick-cut bacon (no maple-honeys or black pepper crusted bacons). If you’re keeping kosher, it’s fine to omit the bacon, and indeed, Child left it out of the recipe when she presented it on The French Chef. However, if you’re simply looking to make it healthier, then you might as well find something else. I understand quinoa is nice this season.
- Use an inexpensive young red wine for this. A good house/table red will do nicely.
- Child’s recipe calls for one chopped carrot. I find I like having more carrots than this to add variety to the stew.
- The recipes for the braised onions and mushrooms can stand alone as very tasty side dishes.
- This is the epitome of French comfort food. Make it a day ahead. This is one of those dishes that tastes even better reheated.
- Bon appetit!
6 oz chunk of bacon
3 lbs. stewing beef
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp flour
3 cups of a young, full-bodied red wine (beaujolais or Chianti for example)
2-3 cups beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf, crushed
parsley for garnish
For braised onions:
18-24 peeled white pearl onions
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp oil
1/2 cup of brown stock
salt and pepper to taste
a medium herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/4 tsp thyme tied in a cheesecloth)
For braised mushrooms:
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, washed, dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
Remove rind, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Saute the bacon in oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you saute the beef.
Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Saute it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out remaining fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and peper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of heated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.
Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set aside.
Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their saute the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat and set aside.
When the meat is tender pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
(*) Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.
Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.