At last! This week I finally made Julia Child’s famous boeuf bourguignon. After watching the lovely picture Julie & Julia again (and again) it was only a matter of time. The boeuf bourguignon would come out of my oven eventually and this week the conditions were perfect: one and a half kilo of beef, one bottle fine red wine and I had a lot of time on my hands. And let me tell you one thing: you will need a lot of time for this recipe. But let me also tell you right away: it is worth it and you will not regret it! The only thing you really need is large cast-iron pan suitable for the oven. But if you follow the recipe carefully you will find it’s not very hard. And you will find yourself being overwhelmed by the magnificent tender and juicy beef alongside the profoundly tasteful red wine sauce and soft buttery mushrooms. It actually turned out to be a little over the top for a casual weekly dinner. The dish is more suitable for a nice dinner with friends or family or to serve at Christmas. Because of the long time it has to stay in the oven you can entertain your guests and share their company during that time rather than being busy in the kitchen while your guest are enjoying themselves without you.
It’s probably quite obvious, but boeuf bourguignon is a Burgundy dish with beef. Looking at the list of ingredients (beef, bacon, red wine, mushrooms) you will not find it strange that in Dutch Burgundy not only stands for the French region but is also the name for bon vivants. Traditionally, boeuf bourguignon is a peasant dish made with leftover beef that was normally too tough to eat. The farmer’s wife might consider turning the beef into boeuf bourguignon. By inserting strips of fat bacon she would improve the beef’s flavour and tenderness. Then she would simmer the beef in wine or vegetable broth for hours, until the beef was tender enough to eat. Through time boeuf bourguignon found its way to the higher spheres of French cuisine: the haute cuisine. After French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) took the dish under his wing it was further perfected and the recipe was specified and coded. For Escoffier is known for his skills with sauces – he has coded the basis recipes of the five French ‘mother sauces’: béchamel, espagnol, velouté, hollandaise and tomato sauce. After Escoffier’s work the boeuf bourguignon eventually found its way to Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961 and thereby starting its road that would lead to world fame.
Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe. Do read it at least twice before you start. Don’t skip the flour-part not even when your meat already has a golden brown colour because the flour will hold your sauce together. Serve with mashed potatoes. Don’t go over the top with other side dishes for the boeuf bourguignon will totally justified claim all the attention anyway.
6 ounces (170 g) of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds (1360 g) lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered
1. Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks one quarter-inch thick and one and a half inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for ten minutes in one and a half quarts water. Drain and dry.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230C).
3. Sauté lardons in one tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole pan over moderate heat for two to three minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
4. Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat 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 lardons.
5. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
6. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with one half teaspoon of salt and one quarter teaspoon of pepper.
7. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for four minutes.
8. Toss the meat again and return to oven for four minutes (this browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust).
9. Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees F (160C).
10. Stir in wine and two to three cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
11. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
12. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for three to four hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
13. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
14. Heat one and a half tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
15. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about ten 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.
16. Add one half cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
17. 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.
18. Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.
19. Toss and shake pan for four to five minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.
20. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
21. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.
22. Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about two and a half cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
23. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.
24. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer two to three minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
25. Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.
Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cocking - Volume 1 (1983), 333.
Thanks to Julia Child (1912-2004): ‘bon appetit!’