Boeuf Bourguignon

When you think of quintessential French cuisine, I bet this recipe comes straight to your mind. And rightly so, mostly because the name is in French – and all it means is ‘Burgundy-style beef’ – and because the recipe dates back to a time where farmers could not afford the most expensive cuts of meat and came up with a clever way of making even the less noble cuts tender and tasty – stewing. The recipe was then made famous by the likeness of Auguste Escoffier and Julia Child to the French and English-speaking audiences respectively and it has become a flagship dish ever since.

Let me start by saying that there are a few things you should bear in mind when making this. First of all, the meat should be lean and not excessively fat. Also, it should be cut in big chunks and not in small ones like you would for a British stew. Secondly, you need a big cast iron casserole which you can use both on the hob and in the oven. The meat needs to slow cook for at least 3 hours in a very low oven, so the better quality your pan is, the better. I have been asked to make this using a slow cooker, but as that does not involve much cooking at all, I refused to do so. I do however understand you might be pressed for time sometimes, so you could decide to use that instead. Last, but not least, the wine: the traditional recipe obviously asks for a good Burgundy red wine, but should you not be able to afford/get your hands on one, then a full-bodied red would be just as good.

You can serve this dish à la Française, that is with either tagliatelle or rice cooked in beef stock, or you can opt for a simpler approach and have it with either mashed potatoes or on its own. This recipe comes from the GialloZafferano website.

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Ingredients (for the beef stew)

  • 1.5 kg lean steak beef, cut into 6cm pieces
  • 1 litre Burgundy wine
  • 1 litre beef stock
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 200g pancetta or rindless streaky bacon, cut into small chunks
  • 200g carrots, chopped
  • 200g onions, chopped
  • 30g plain flour, sifted
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed/finely chopped
  • 25g tomato puree
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary and thyme, tied together to make a bouquet garni
  • 3 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper

Ingredients (for the onions and mushrooms)

  • 300g small onions or shallots
  • 500g button/chestnut mushrooms
  • 100ml beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Once you have cut the meat in big chunks, lay some kitchen paper on a surface and put the pieces of meat on it, then cover with some more kitchen paper to pat dry the meat prior to searing it. This ensures the meat does not stick to the pan and forms a nice crusty layer on the outside, keeping all of the juices inside.
  2. Drizzle some olive oil in the cast iron casserole and put it on a medium heat, then add the cubed pancetta/bacon and fry for 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pot and set aside.
  3. Now get rid of the kitchen paper, turn the heat to high and sear the meat chunks in batches of 4 or 5 pieces at a time (if you crowd the pan too much the meat will steam), then remove to a dish and continue until you have seared all of the meat.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium and add the carrots and onions, stirring frequently. Make sure to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the casserole while stirring, then cook for about 10 minutes, until softened and golden.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 250C and turn the fan on.
  6. Return the pancetta to the casserole together with the meat, then cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until all of the juices have evaporated. Add the flour in two batches and stir well after each addition.
  7. Transfer the casserole to the (really) hot oven WITHOUT the lid and leave it for 10 minutes, mixing well every 5 minutes. This ensures the meat browns well on the outside and forms a slightly charred and harder crust, which will seal the juices inside and make the meat extremely tender.
  8. Remove the casserole from the oven and put it on a medium heat. Turn the oven down to 130C (no fan) or 110C (fan-assisted).
  9. Add the wine to the casserole and mix well, then add all of the stock, but reserve about 2 tbsp to melt the tomato puree in a small bowl, then pour that in as well. Add the bouquet garni and the bay leaves, then bring to a simmer.
  10. When the liquid is gently simmering (do not boil it!), clamp the lid on and put it in the oven for 3 hours. Once that is done, turn off the oven and leave the meat inside to gently cool down until stone-cold.
  11. In the meantime, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Peel the onions and remove the hard bit at the bottom, then drizzle some olive oil in a shallow pan and gently fry the onions until slightly browned. Add the beef stock, put a lid on and gently cook until softened.
  12. In another pan, prepare the mushrooms. Clean the mushrooms, then slice them in halves (or quarters). Drizzle some olive oil in the pan, then add the clove of garlic and gently pan fry it (do not burn it!). Add the mushrooms and pan fry them until golden but still firm. Add the chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
  13. Now take the big casserole with the meat and the juices. Using a slotted spoon, transfer all of the meat to a plate. Also remove the bouquet garni and any other herbs you might have used.
  14. Place a sieve over the casserole and pour the onions and the mushrooms into the sieve, so that the juices would run straight into the casserole. Transfer the juices to a blender and blend until smooth or transfer to a bowl and use a liquidiser to blend them.
  15. Place the meat, onions and mushrooms back into the casserole, then pour the gravy-to-be in a shallow pan and reduce by at least half its volume. You need to reach a velvety consistence, thick enough to cover the back of a spoon. Once that happens, pour the gravy over the meat and vegetables and serve at once.
  16. If you are feeling very French, you can serve it the original way, that is with some tagliatelle seasoned with a pinch of cracked black pepper.

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