Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beef Stew, is yours Bourguignon?

As Julia Child states in her introduction to the famous recipe, "Of the several types of beef stew in which the meat is browned, then simmerered in an aromatic liquid, boeuf bourguignon is the most famous." It is called bourguignon because it comes from the Bourguignons village in the north of France, the region famous of course for its burgandy wines.  As such it is a beef stew made with red wine.  Julia goes on to state "As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon.  Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certianly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man..."

While Julia's recipe below is a stew that is traditionally served with boiled potatoes, I make my version in the American tradition and add the potatoes, carrots or other root vegetables during the last hour of cooking so as not to over cook them.  If I have other vegetables handy, I add those too.  After you've made beef stew by the recipe a few times, you'll know the basic techniques and you can add and subtract ingredients as you and your family enjoy this classic dish.

The most important elements when making any good beef stew are 1) brown the meat first using a better cut of meat such as chuck pot roast; 2) use an inexpensive but drinkable red wine; and 3) cook for 2-4 hours.  From these basics, you can improvise.  For example after browning my beef I typically add a roughly chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots and a couple stalks of chopped celery to deglaze the pan.  Then I add at least a half a bottle of red wine and let simmer for 10 minutes or so, before adding the beef to the pot, covering it well with half chicken broth and half water. 

If you'd like to hear from the master herself, check out the video of her making this dish on YouTube.

Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon
[Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon,  Onions, and Mushrooms]

One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds 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
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

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté lardons 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 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.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 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. 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. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half 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 1/2 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 remaining oil and 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.

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 lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Skim fat off 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 stock. 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, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

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