I’ve wanted to make Boeuf Bourguignon since I saw the movie Julie & Julia (in 2009). I suppose I’ve dragged my feet a bit (6 years) mainly because Julia Child’s version of the dish seemed so daunting.
In reality, it is not a difficult recipe, more a time-intensive one. I began the process at 1:00pm and we ate dinner around 6:30pm. The beef braised in the oven for about 3 hours. It may have taken all day, but friends, it was exceptionally good.
While the meat braises, you make efficient use of time by preparing pearl onions and mushrooms. Interestingly, I almost skipped the onions altogether because I wasn’t convinced they’d add much. I was embarrassingly mistaken. After the onions sauté in butter and stock for 40 minutes they develop a sweet jam-like consistency. For me, they were a surprise highlight of the stew.
Classic preparation suggests arranging the stew on a platter with potatoes or noodles or rice, however I decided to take a page out of Ina’s book and serve with a hearty slice of toast. Perhaps fortuitously, at one point while prepping ingredients, the almost empty wine bottle tipped over onto the counter and a few drops spilled (gasp!) onto a small amount of butter. Butter, saving the day. I decided to combine the two ingredients for a delicious red wine compound butter, which was extra decadent slathered on the toast.
In the end, I followed the instructions to the letter and was very pleased with the results. Michael said it was one of the best things I’d ever made. I was so happy to have successfully completed the process. The rich, earthy stew was well worth the effort (and the wait). We ate it for lunch the next day and the flavors were even more intense.
Julia Child Style
9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish , 3 inches deep
6 ounces bacon
1 tbsp olive oil, 4 tsp olive oil (used separately)
3 tbsp butter
3 pounds lean stewing beef , cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp. flour
3 cups full-bodied, young red wine (I used this Château Bois Pertuis, which I found at Whole Foods for $17; I thought it worked perfectly)
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
Crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 small white onions, peeled
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms, sautéed in butter
1 loaf of your favorite rustic bread (for serving)
Extra butter for toast
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long).
Sauté the bacon in the olive 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 sauté the beef.
Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté 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 the sautéing fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated 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 so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon. 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. (I didn’t worry too much about regulating the heat; I simply checked the stew every 45 minutes or so and rotated the pot.)
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Bring 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and 2 teaspoons oil to a medium heat in a sauté pan. Add the pearl onions and toss around in the fat until they’ve browned, 10 minutes. Then stir in 1/2 cup beef stock, a small pinch of salt and pepper and parsley. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the onions for about 40 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are tender. Remove the onions and set aside. Discard the herbs and wipe out the skillet. Add the remaining butter and oil and bring to a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan to coat with the butter. Set them aside until needed.
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. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
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 decorated with parsley.
To serve, toast the bread in the toaster and coat with butter. For each serving, spoon the stew over a slice of bread and sprinkle with parsley.