Pièce de Résistance [Classic Beef Bourguignon]

When I first started becoming more interested in cooking and food writing, around 2007, I assumed that if I could get my hands on a Le Creuset dutch oven, I would be able to cook anything. It is, afterall, the mother of all cookware in my mind. It’s always been my excuse for not trying certain recipes. “Oh, umm… well I don’t have the proper cookware to make that…”. Of course, it was an easy excuse not to try recipes I found overly intimidating, specifically, the classics that rely on technique rather than fancy ingredients. 

As time went on, I became more comfortable making moderately complicated recipes, but still pined after the one and only, Le Creuset, which comes in at a hefty $400 for a 5.5qt pot, so you can understand why it was slightly unattainable for a 21 year old. As far as I was concerned, this pot was the pièce de résistance for any perfect kitchen. Not one could be complete without it. And further to that, one could not cook certain classics without the use of it (which is, of course, entirely false.)

You can probably only imagine my heart-stopping surprise when I curiously plucked the tissue paper from a gift bag, courtesy of my extremely generous older sister Laura and her fiance, to see the notorious bright orange box that could only contain a Le Creuset pot. This was it, I could die a happy woman, clutching tightly to my beloved dutch oven. Sorry Allan, somethings are just more important than true love. Like heavy, enameled cast iron cookware.

So now I had the pot. But I wanted to cook something deserving of it’s perfection. Something new to me, but classic in it’s preperation. I had put out a request for ideas and shortly after, had a suggestion for Beef Bourguignon. Now, why hadn’t I thought of that myself? In all honesty, I’m not much for beef stew. I make it occasionally and eat it reluctantly. It’s easy to make, good for leftovers, and completely insipid. You know, ho hum, uninteresting, boring… all of the above. Yawn.

Beef Bourguignon, on the otherhand, is not your typical beef stew. It’s flavourful, exciting, rich, and satsfying. “Certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.”, claimed the queen of French Cuisine, Dame Julia Childs in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And after cooking it for dinner last night, I would be hard pressed to disagree with Mrs. Childs. It was, in fact, the most delicious beef dish (ok, short of Allan’s dads steaks) I have had. The beef, strugging not to fall apart at the slightest poke of a fork, is blanketed by a sauce of red wine and beef broth, thickened and made richer with buerre manié, and served with browned pearl onions (that just about melt) and butter sauted mushrooms. It was, in a word, divine. Every bit worth the extra steps and time it takes to come together. And don’t worry, you don’t need a $400 dutch oven to make it. Only pretentious, spoiled brats need those. And nobody likes those people. Not even me.

Classic Beef Bourguignon
Recipe via Simply Recipes from Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon in her book Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom

Be sure to make this on a day when you can start cooking earlier in the afternoon. It does take quite a bit of time to prep (1 hour) and to cook (2-3 hours) and I would hate for you to be eating dinner at 9pm like me.

Beef Stew
6 oz bacon (6 slices or 6oz slab bacon)
2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil
4 lbs beef chuck, cute into ” cubes (for best results, use a rump roast and cube yourself)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups sliced onions
1 cup sliced carrots
3 cups of young red wine (burgundy/côtes-du-rhône/bordeaux)
2 cups beef stock (if you don’t have homemade, buy the best quality you can find)
1 medium herb bouquet (5 sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs parsley, 3 smashed garlic cloves,
1 whole clove tied in cheesecloth or, in my case, a tied-up tea sac)

Beurre manié:
3 Tbsp flour blended to a paste with 2 Tbsp butter

Mushrooms & Onions
24 pearl onions
Chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds of button or cremini mushrooms, quartered

Blanch the bacon to remove its smoky taste. Drop bacon slices into 2 quarts of cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer 6 to 8 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and dry on paper towels.

In a large frying pan, sauté the blanched bacon to brown and slightly crispy. Set them aside and add to the beef before it goes into the oven. Pat cubes of beef dry with a pepper towel. In a large frying pan over high heat, brown the chunks of beef on all sides in the bacon fat and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and put them into a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or covered casserole pan. 

Remove all but a little fat (1-2 tbsp) from the frying pan, add the sliced vegetables and brown them, and then add them to the meat. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of wine and pour over the beef along with 2 more cups. Add enough beef stock to almost cover the beef. Add the herb bouquet. Bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven at 325 for 2-3 hours. When finished cooking, the meat should be extremely tender and the liquid should have reduced by almost half.

While the stew is cooking, prepare the onions. Blanch the onions in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Slice the end tips off of the onions, peel the onions and score the root end with 1/4 inch cuts. Sauté onions in a single layer in a tablespoon or two of butter until lightly browned. Add beef stock or water half way up the sides of the onions. Add a teaspoon of sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 minutes or until tender. The onions should absorb most of the stock. Drain any remaining liquid.

Prepare the mushrooms a few minutes before serving the stew. Sauté quartered mushrooms on high in a few tablespoons of butter and olive oil until browned and cooked through.

When the stew is finished cooking to your liking, remove from the oven and strain over a large sauce pan, pressing so the juices come out, so you are left with all the sauce in one pan, and the solids in the strainer. Discard the stewed carrots/onions, reserving the beef. Rinse casserole dish and add reserved beef to it. Boil the sauce until it has reduced to about 3 cups. Remove from heat and whisk in the beurre manié. Return to heat and simmer for 2 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Pour sauce over stewed beef cubes and fold in the mushrooms and pearl onions. Simmer again to heat everything through, and serve.

You can serve this with the classic pairing of boiled potatoes or buttered noodles. Or the less classic (but my favourite) mashed potatoes, or rice or all on it’s own.

I served this with a 2008 Chateau St Germain Bordeaux Superieur, since I used Bordeaux to cook with.