Beef Bourguignon

“Beef bourguignon is a traditional French peasant dish. It is a stew prepared with beef braised in red wine (usually a Burgundy) flavored with garlic, onions, and a bouquet garni with pearl onions and mushrooms added near the end of cooking.”

I am not very good at making stew. I’ve tried to make stew with wine; the last time I did, I used Merlot and my stew turned an unappealing shade of purple. Beef bourguignon (or beef with burgundy) is one of those recipes that, like ratatouille, is a traditional peasant dish but has recently made a comeback in haute cuisine. It’s a feature in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and while it’s not exactly tailgating food, I decided to make it for the conference opener Football Game.

I like this dish because it’s made in easy, uncomplicated steps. I consulted Ina Garten’s and Martha Stewart’s recipes and they are very similar to Julia Child’s recipe. Julia’s is a more traditional approach, especially with its use of lardons, which is solid bacon fat cut into small strips and cooked to release fat. Modern-day beef has a higher fat content than beef of 50 years ago, so it’s not necessary to use straight up bacon fat. Ina and Martha’s recipes call for bacon (and in Ina’s case, dry-cured applewood smoked bacon… swanky), and I’m down with any excuse to cook with bacon. Just another layer of flavor for me!

Also, all three recipes call for sprinkling in flour at some point; Ina even says to mix butter and flour together in a kind of roux and then add it to the stew. Instead, I dusted the beef with flour seasoned with salt and pepper before searing it. I think this contributes to the formation of “brown crunchy bits” at the bottom of the pan that ultimately add to the flavor of the dish. After searing the beef, I cooked the onions and carrots until the onions were starting to brown. Then I used chicken stock to deglaze the pan and scraped up those important brown bits. I have to admit, I was worried when I added the wine because it turned my stew an unsettling shade of purple and I had flashbacks to the last time I made stew with Merlot.

I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about cooking with wine. I really don’t have a very educated palate when it comes to wine. My favorite wine is Pinot Grigio- Santa Margherita, to be specific- so cooking with red wine isn’t exactly my forte. However, when I decided a while ago that I wanted to try making Beef Bourguignon, I started to do research so I didn’t totally screw it up a la the Purple Stew Disaster. What I found out is that the dish gets its name from its region of origin (the Burgundy region of France), not from the fact that it uses Burgundy wine. This is good because a good Burgundy wine can be $20+ and isn’t exactly affordable on my salary. I did discover that I could use really any dry red wine including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Beaujolais. I got some recommendations from my local wine store and picked up a bottle of Barefoot Pinot Noir and Gallo Hearty Burgundy for about $6 each. Ultimately, I chose the Pinot to cook my dish and saved the Burgundy for drinking.

After I added the wine, I added some thyme from my anemic-looking plants in my backyard planter, a healthy spoonful of diced garlic, and a bay leaf. I also put in about a half can of tomato paste. The covered stockpot sat in the oven at 350 degrees for 1.5 hours. I checked the meat after 90 minutes; it was pretty tender and the liquid was a more appealing shade of reddish-brownish-purple.

Each of the recipes called to add mushrooms and pearl onions at this stage in the cooking, but differed about execution.

  • Ina and Julia say to sauté the mushrooms before adding them to the pot and Martha says to just add them without cooking.
  • Ina says to add frozen pearl onions before putting in the cooked mushrooms and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Martha says to add the carrots and pearl onions together after 1.5 hours of cooking, then cook for 1.5 hours more. Mushrooms are added with 15 minutes of cooking time left.
  • Julia says to sauté the pearl onions and mushrooms together then serve them alongside the meat after it cooks for 2-3 hours.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of onions. I love the way they smell when they cook and I like onion taste, but it’s only been recently that I started eating pieces of cooked onion. I didn’t have pearl onions and didn’t want to hunt them down (for some reason, they are hard to find in Southern Great Plains State), so I eliminated them entirely. I did end up sauteéing the mushrooms and adding them after cooking the stew for 1.5 hours, and then just kept the stew in the oven until the Football Game reached halftime.

Served with egg noodles, the stew was quite delicious. Even though I used a whole bottle of wine, there wasn’t an overwhelming flavor of wine. The meat was tender and wonderful; I do have to make a shout-out to my new meat market, Artisan’s Pride, because the butcher has yet to steer me wrong about a meat choice. The onion that I did use were tender and I ate every last one in my bowl… it helped that they had the texture of egg noodles. I had plenty leftover to freeze for later. It definitely restored my faith in my ability to make stew.

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