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Beef Bourguignon, Revisited

Hoca

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Some long-term readers may remember that I posted a Beef Bourguignon recipe about this time last year. While it tasted great, I wasn’t happy with some of the steps in the recipe, and I was really unhappy with the pictures. So this past weekend I put my thinking cap on and tackled the dish from scratch, without consulting my old recipe at all. I’m happy to report that I made some pretty big improvements to my old recipe and cut out a couple unnecessary steps along the way. To avoid confusion, I’ve now happily removed my old, obsolete recipe.

Beef Bourguignon is a dish that originates from the Burgundy region of Eastern France. It’s widely accepted that this dish started as a peasant’s recipe, possibly as far back as the Middle Ages, as a way to slow-cook tough cuts of meat. However, it’s not mentioned in cookbooks until the early 20th century, when it was refined into the staple haute cuisine dish it’s generally regarded as today. Most people associate this dish with Julia Child, as her recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a timeless classic.

This dish is fairly true to the authentic recipes available today, and not terribly unlike Julia’s original recipe. Generally, this dish is cooked with bacon since lean/tough meats were typically used and adding bacon gave this dish some rich fattiness. I’ve also found that fattier cuts turn out really good as well. My personal touches include dusting the beef pieces in rice flour before browning (Julia browned the beef alone, then added flour and roasted the beef for a little while in the oven, turning the beef once halfway through – quite an involved step!). I also decided to keep the pot on the stovetop instead of transferring it to the oven; to me, this better mimics the open-fire method of cooking that birthed this dish, and it doesn’t alienate home chefs that don’t have a dutch oven yet. If you’re rice-free, never fear – while the addition of rice flour helps thicken the sauce and adds a little body to the broth, it’s not a show stopper.

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Serves five

6oz bacon, coarsely chopped into strips
3 lbs beef (shanks, chuck, brisket, round roast), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 2″ chunks
1 tbsp white rice flour (optional, see instructions below)
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 bottle (375 ml, about 1.5 cups) medium-bodied red wine (pinot noir preferred)
2 cups beef stock
bouquet garni: 4 sprigs fresh parsley, 6 sprigs fresh thyme, 3 bay leaves (fresh preferred, dried okay)
2 tbsp butter
20 pearl onions, peeled
8 white mushrooms, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-size chunks
starch to accompany: boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed cauliflower, rice


The folks over at the Wyoming-based New West Knife Works recently asked me to test out a knife from their new Fusionwood 2.0 line, and I thought prepping for this dish was the perfect opportunity. I tried out their Santoku knife, and overall I was very impressed. The knife handle was longer than I expected, and initially felt a little cumbersome compared to my usual Santoku, the Wusthof 7″ Classic, but after a few minutes I came to appreciate the extra weight of the handle and the balance it provided. Its added length felt a lot like a chef’s knife, which gave the knife a very unique and comforting feel. Anyway, if you’re in the market for a new, high-quality knife, I think you’ll be happy with this knife. They’re currently hosting a summer giveaway on their FB page – a set of their four favorite knives – which is pretty awesome. Okay, let’s knock out the recipe now.

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Cook the bacon in a large pot or dutch oven on med/low heat, until crispy. As the bacon cooks, dust your beef pieces with rice flour – this step adds a nice coating to the beef, and helps thicken the sauce, but is ultimately unnecessary if you’re trying to avoid rice altogether. When it’s finished cooking, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Increase the stovetop heat to medium, then add the beef pieces to the bacon grease and brown for about 3 mins per side, in batches if needed, and set aside the beef when done. Add the chopped onions to the pot, sauté until softened and aromatic, about five minutes. Next, add the tomato paste and garlic, stirring everything together, and sauté until aromatic, about a minute.

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Add the beef, bacon, and wine to the pot, and add enough beef stock to cover the beef pieces, about 2 cups. Tie together your bouquet garni with either kitchen twine or some cheese cloth, and add it as well. Bring everything to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to low.

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You’re going to want to simmer everything until the beef becomes tender, which will take about 2 hours (a little longer if you’re using a very tough or lean cut of meat). There are a few steps to do along the way, and with the right timing everything will come out at the perfect doneness. Quick note as well: be sure to try and skim a little of the fat from the top of the stew from time to time, usually right before adding new veggies.

When there is about an hour of cooking left, it’s time for the next step, which is prepping and adding the veggies. Boil your pearl onions for a minute, fish them out, let them cool, and cut the root side and slip the skin right off (note: many groceries sell peeled, frozen pearl onions, which are very convenient and eliminates this step). In a separate pan, warm the butter on medium heat, then add the onions and sauté them until aromatic (but not totally softened), about four minutes. Add the carrots and sauté for another minute, then add them to the pot. When there are 20 minutes of cooking left, add the chopped mushrooms.

Once the meat is tender and the veggies are done, remove all of the solids from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside (it’s okay if you don’t scoop out all of the onion pieces and bacon). Discard the bouquet garni. Increase the stovetop heat to med/high, and reduce the sauce by about half – you’ll want about 3 cups of liquid altogether; the sauce will darken was well, which is a good thing. Once the sauce is reduced, remove it from the heat and gently stir in the meat and veggies. Season to taste, adding about 1 tsp each of salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

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