This is pretty much Julie Child’s Beef Bourguignon recipe. Which I love. And would make more often if it weren’t so damned complicated to follow. Then one day I was making it and realized the recipe itself isn’t that complicated or difficult, just the way it’s written in the book is so damn hard to follow. Then I remember I’m dealing with Bitch Julie (who I love, but I hear her screeching voice in my head every time I get frustrated by one of her instructions). It’s not that she isn’t an amazing chef and provides detailed instructions. It’s that it’s so freaking hard to just extract one recipe from her book without having mastered all the previous ones. You have to flip back and forth and look stuff up. No wonder that crazy lady who wrote Julie & Julia is crazy.
So I decided to re-write the way the recipe is written and provide my instructions on how I make it less frustrating and confusing to make this. Because Beef Bourguignon is amazingly delicious and should be made more often. It’s also delicious as left overs so the time put into it usually guarantees you two additional nights of not having to cook. I am not trying to improve upon Ms. Julia in any way (how could I?) but only provide enough forethought should you decide to tackle this recipe. Oh, and remind myself what to do in 4-5 months when I try this again.
A few rules I follow:
- Don’t try this if you don’t have a dish washer. Unless you love washing dishes by hand. The only way to do this is to use lots and lots of dishes.
- Start with a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher. You will need it.
- Prep all your ingredients in advance. ALL. Every garlic mashed, every tablespoon of flour put out in its own little bowl. Every onion and carrot sliced and put in their own bowls. Herb bag prepped ahead of time. Beef dried (do not forget to dry the beef or you will hear Bitch Julia screaming at you when it doesn’t brown like it’s supposed to). Butter sticks cut up in the right amounts for each step. Everything set out in neat little bowls ready to grab at just the right moment. Yeah, it uses a lot of dishes. Hence rule #1. But it will be so worth it.
- Clean up as you go! Normally I’m not like this. But in this case, take every bit of downtime in this recipe to clean up. Otherwise you will have a disaster of a kitchen just when you’re ready to pour that glass of wine and relax before the final steps of the recipe. Which ruins the mood of accomplishment you get when you make it through this recipe.
Cooking equipment you have to have:
- A casserole (like a Le Creuset)
- A skillet
- A large sauce pan: you can use this for cooking broth, then cooking the bacon, then the sauce, then the potatoes (I make various variations on my smashed potatoes); there is enough time between each step to clean the sauce pan so you can reuse it
- A colander or sieve (preferably one that fits nicely over the large saucepan)
- A slotted spoon
- A sharp chef’s knife
Cooking utensils it’s very very nice to have:
- A fat skimmer
- A garlic press
- Lots and lots of bowls.
Other items of note:
- Ingredients: Don’t skimp. You are not going to go through all of this only to use sub-standard ingredients. Go organic (or trusted local) and grass-fed sustainably farmed beef.
- KNOW YOUR OVEN! The recipe says it will take 3-4 hours for the beef to cook. My oven does it in 2. It says simmer the onions for 40-50 minutes, my stovetop takes 30. Don’t just throw it in for the 3-4 hours. Check every hour for tenderness to gauge your oven.
- “Healthy” substitutes: You’re on your own. This is French cooking so I don’t know why you’d try to find lower calorie ways to do it. Otherwise don’t try it IMO. This dish is one of your rewards for regular healthy habits. Trying to reduce the calories of a dish like this probably means you shouldn’t be trying it at all.
Time commitment: I like to make this on a cold and rainy day and I pretty much commit my day to it. But so you know, here is how the time commitment breakdown looks:
- 1 ½ – 2 hours of prep time before you even start cooking anything.
- 45 min – 1 hour of initial cook time
- 1-2 hour (depending on your oven) break (hint, this is when you start the clean-up process)
- 15 – 30 min of next stage cook time
- 1-2 hour break time (more clean-up time)
- 30 minutes finish time to bring to table
Where I’ve deviated from Ms. Julia without her voice screaming in my head and without dire results, I’ve noted with an asterisks and the reason below.
I’ve grouped the ingredient list by two ways here. One is by type which is how you’d make your grocery list. Then I followed by grouping ingredients in the order they are used in the recipe.
|6 ounces bacon*||1 carrot, sliced||2 tablespoons flour||Salt and pepper|
|3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes||1 onion, sliced||3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil||½ teaspoon thyme|
|2 cloves mashed garlic||3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)||A crumbled bay leaf|
|18 to 24 white onions, small*||4 cups brown beef stock*||Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)|
|1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered||1 tablespoon tomato paste**|
|3 ½ tablespoons butter|
Here’s how you’ll need the ingredients in order of the stages of the recipe:
|Getting the casserole started||Pearl Onions (or shallots) & Mushrooms||Finishing the Sauce|
|6 ounces bacon*||18 to 24 white onions, small*||½ cup stock if needed|
|3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes||1 ½ tablespoons butter (for onions)||Salt and pepper|
|1 carrot, sliced||½ tablespoons oil (for onions)|
|1 onion, sliced||½ cup of stock|
|1 tablespoon olive oil||Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)*|
|Salt/pepper||1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered*|
|2 tablespoons flour||2 tablespoons oil (for mushrooms)|
|2 tablespoons butter (for mushrooms)|
|3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)|
|2 ½ to 3 ½ cups brown beef stock|
|1 tablespoon tomato paste**|
|2 cloves mashed garlic|
|½ teaspoon thyme|
|A crumbled bay leaf|
Getting the casserole started
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Remove bacon rind (see below about bacon substitution)* Cut bacon into sticks 1 ½ inches long. Simmer bacon for 10 minutes in 1 ½ quarts water. Drain and dry.
- Sauté bacon in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
- Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat bacon fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon on the side.
- In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.*
- Return the beef and bacon to the casserole with the onions and carrots and toss with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.
- Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).
- Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
- Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
- Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind (see *1). Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
- Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours (KNOW YOUR OVEN!). The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
Pearl Onions (or shallots) & Mushrooms (While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms; I do this in the second hour of the beef cooking; if you’re oven actually takes the 3-4 hours, I recommend doing this in the 3rd hour)
- Heat 1 ½ tablespoons butter with one and ½ tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
- Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
- Add ½ cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
- Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
- Wipe out skillet and heat 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.
- Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.
Finishing the Sauce & Casserole:
- When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve or colander set over a saucepan.
- Wash out the casserole and return the beef, bacon, and onions/carrots to it. Distribute the cooked pearl onions (or shallots) and mushrooms on top.
- Skim fat off sauce in saucepan (this is where a fat skimmer really comes in handy; otherwise use a spoon but it’s not as easy).
- Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises (I actually do it for longer than 2 minutes but I like a slightly thicker sauce). You should have about 2 ½ 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 stock (this is why you keep about a ¼ – ½ cup stock in reserve).
– Taste carefully for seasoning.
- Pour sauce over meat and vegetables.
- Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes (recipe and link to follow), noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.
Substitutions and Comments:
*1: Original recipe calls for “One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon” but I don’t generally have chunks of bacon in my fridge. I don’t think I’ve had catastrophic results just using 6 ounces of cut up bacon.
*2: I have used pearl onions when available, which is what the recipe calls for. When I can’t get pearl onions, I have substituted shallots. I’ve had French people not notice the difference or even prefer the shallots.
*3: Seriously, you want to throw out delicious bacon fat? There’s a step later about skimming fat that’s perfectly appropriate but throwing out delicious bacon fat at this stage is heathen and you should be shot.
*4: If you make your own beef stock, great! If not, I recommend Better than Bouillon.
*5: I keep these handy for homemade tea and herb pouches. Reusable and washable.
*6: For mushrooms I personally like shitakes. But crimini are perfectly fine, too.
**Recipes like these that call for a single tablespoon of tomato paste are so annoying because then you have to open a whole can of tomato paste for only one tablespoon then figure out how to use the rest of it within a week or so before it goes bad. I plan on making a pasta sauce within three days to use up the rest of the tomato paste.