Boeuf Bourguignon

February 15, 2009 · 10 comments

I have been making boeuf bourguignon for as long as I have been cooking – almost 30 years. I used the recipe in Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook for most of that time, until I discovered the Cook’s Illustrated recipe that streamlined the process and produced a decent facsimile of the original.

Diane loves this dish, so much so that I once cooked it on a sweltering August day, retreating to the only air-conditioned room in our apartment to cool off between steps. It had been a while since I made it, so it was the logical choice for dinner this past Valentine’s day. I decided to use Julia’s recipe again, but an updated version that appears in Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, her collaboration with Jacques Pepin.

It’s important to start a large piece of beef that you can cut into pieces of the size you need. Supermarket “stewing beef” is cut into irregular shapes and is made from irregular cuts, which produces variability on cooking time and final tenderness. I used a four pound beef chuck roast and a block of salt pork:

Le meat

I cut the pork into long slices a half inch thick, then cut each slice into inch thick pieces. The pork was simmered in water for 10 minutes to remove some of the salt, drained and dried, then sauteed in oil for about 10 minutes until browned. Using a slotted spoon, I transferred the pork lardons into the cooking pot.

Pork lardons

What follows is the most difficult part of the entire recipe: forcing yourself not to snack on the crispy pork bits. I tried only one, a measure of love for the dish’s recipient.

During the lardon prep (multitasking!), I separated the beef roast along its natural seams, trimmed away the fat, connective tissue, and silver skin, and cut the cleaned pieces into chunks about an inch square by two inches long. I would up with three pounds of chunks and a pound of scraps. I dried the chunks on paper towels, then added salt and pepper.

Seasoned beef chunks

I browned the chunks in the rendered pork fat over medium high heat, taking care not to crowd the pan. This is the most important step in the recipe: the beef must be thoroughly, deeply browned. If you crowd the pan, the meat steams and won’t develop the crust required. The browned beef was added to the pot with the lardons, now safe from filching under a protective layer of beef.

Le viande brun

While the beef browned (multitasking!), I prepped 1 1/2 cups each of carrots and onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. I piled the pieces on top of a large square of cheesecloth, then added a head of garlic (separated into cloves, crushed, but not peeled), three bay leaves, six thyme sprigs, and about ten parsley stems.

Vegetable bouquet

I tied the cheesecloth into a bundle, set in in the middle of the pot (pushing the meat out of the way), then added a large chopped tomato. For the braising liquid, I used a bottle of burgundy (a 2005 Block 45 Oregon Pinot Noir), then added enough beef stock (Swanson’s Organic) to just cover the meat. Don’t skimp on the wine, it’s the second most important contribution to the final flavor of the dish. I usually spend between $15 – $20 on a bottle.

Assemblage

I brought the pot to a simmer on the stove, then covered it and transferred it to a 300 degree oven, where it cooked for two hours.

I took a detour at this point and started a pot of beef stock, made from the leftover chuck scraps, more carrot and onion, some celery, the remaining beef stock from the carton, and some water. I let that simmer for a few hours, then strained out the meat and vegetables.

During the two hour braise, I moved on to preparing the mushrooms and onions. Julia insists on blanching and peeling fresh pearl onions; I took a cue from Cook’s and used frozen peeled pearl onions instead. I added the onions to a pan with 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, and about a cup of the homemade beef stock. I simmered the onions, covered, for 10 minutes, then uncovered the pan and continued simmering until the liquid reduced to a glaze. At this point I added 10 ounces of small crimini mushrooms, and kept cooking until the mushrooms had browned.

Oignons et champignons

When the braise was done, I removed the beef and lardons from the pot and strained the cooking liquid to remove the tomato pulp, seeds, and skins. I returned the liquid and meat the the pot, and let it sit, covered on the stove while I moved on to the garnishes.

Jaques Pepin recommends serving pommes de terre mont d’or with the boeuf, and since I was tired of always serving it with noodles, I thought I’d give the potatoes a try. I started a pot of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes while the mushrooms cooked (multi- oh, never mind) then added the mash to a food processor, to which I also added three eggs, 1/3 cup grated Gruyère cheese, and salt & pepper. I pulsed the mixture to combine the ingredients, then transferred it to a buttered gratin dish and covered with another 1/3 cup of the cheese.

Pre-puffed potatoes

After 30 minutes in a 300 degree oven, it came out like this:

Potato souffle

Looks just like a potato soufflé, doesn’t it?

The final garnish was simple croutons, buttered and toasted in the oven along with the potatoes.

Croutons

Entering the home stretch, I heated up the meat and sauce, then made buerre manié, a paste of two tablespoons each of softened butter and flour.

Buerre manie

I whisked in a cup of the hot sauce, then returned the mixture to the pot and stirred to thicken. Once the sauce was gently simmering, I added the mushrooms and onions, corrected the seasoning, and added a quarter cup of the wine that would be served with dinner (2003 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel).

At last, time for the final plating:

Boeuf bourguignon

Did I forget to mention the haricots verts? You know how to cook green beans; these were garnished with shallots wilted in olive oil and fennel-thyme salt.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I have made this dish many times, but Di & I agreed this was the best version to date. There were many layers of flavor going on: the salty pork, the sweet onions, the rich beef, and the bright note from the uncooked wine. The potatoes were a perfect compliment, light, fluffy, and with a little bite from the aged cheese.

Miles liked it as well, even though I had to sell it to him as “beef stew with green beans and cheesy mashed potatoes.”

And there was dessert, but that’s the next post.

10 comments

Phyllis Bregman February 16, 2009 at 8:11 am

I’ve cooked this from the Julia Child original recipe, but always used frozen pearl onions. I hate peeling pearl onions and you lose almost nothing taste-wise with frozen ones. I’m going to have to try the potato recipe. It sounds wonderful.

Interesting that you used two different wines. I always stick to one.

David February 16, 2009 at 9:37 am

You definitely want to make the potatoes. You can even use leftover mashed potatoes of you have them, but in this house “leftover mashed potatoes” is a foreign phrase, like “too much bacon.”

As for the wine, Jacques suggests using a splash of whatever you’ll be drinking with the dinner. I was skeptical, but it was only a quarter cup, and it did tie the meal together.

Sean February 16, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I made Boeuf Bourguignon for Valentine’s Day dinner also (which included my partner’s father and his dad’s girlfriend; don’t ask!). And I used the recipe from Julia and Jacques collaboration rather than the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I was curious to blog about my preparation and had a bit of challenge tracking down a reference to the recipe from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. Google pointed me to lots of folks who relied on the recipe from the 1960s and compared to the updated version in Julia’s collaboration with Jacques, well, there’s no comparison in terms of simplicity! I won’t be trying the older version of the recipe and even simplified the recipe that I used by not boiling the bacon before frying it. I also wasn’t as disciplined as you about not sampling the bacon! Next time I’ll make extra! The proof is in the result because we all loved this dish and I can’t wait to make it again! Great way to use up some of those bottles of red wine from Christmas!

David February 16, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Thanks for reading! The Julia and Jacques recipe is a great improvement over the old Mastering recipe, which I cooked once.

It’s not essential to blanch the salt pork. you just have to be more careful with the seasoning of the finished sauce. I go by feel: if I can feel the salt grains when I’m trimming off the skin, it gets a blanch.

Melanie Campbell February 16, 2009 at 11:31 pm

I remember my mother cooking this dish eons ago; she had “Mastering French Cooking”, and used it often. She might have used the old recipe. I don’t remember the taste; people can’t remember tastes without meeting the taste again. I’m sure it was good.

David February 17, 2009 at 12:21 am

The recipe in in Volume One of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. It was originally published in 1961; my copy is the thirty-second printing from 1981. There’s still a bookmark at the recipe on page 315, the page is warped from splashes and splatters.

The big difference with the old recipe involves tossing the browned meat with flour and cooking it in a high heat oven for about ten minutes. The heat is lowered before adding the wine and all the vegetables. I recall this all being very messy and difficult to control.

Sean February 18, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Hi David–

I finally finished my blog post regarding the beef Burgundy. I departed from J & J’s recipe from Cooking at Home most noticeably in how I prepared the onions and mushrooms by cooking the mushrooms first rather than the onions. I believe this is only the second time I’ve made the dish, but I couldn’t have been more pleased and wanted to get everything written down in my blog!

Bessy August 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I’ve been looking for good, helpful recipes for Beef Bourguignon so I was very happy to find this site. I gave a link from my site that suggests what people should eat for dinner :D.

David August 30, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Thanks for the link! Keep reading, not all of my recipes are day-long affairs.

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