Twenty five years ago I had my first taste of Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon when a guest brought the offering as part of a pot-luck dinner. I devoured every morsel of that celestial dish for three days until alas, it all disappeared into my belly. It became my go-to, special occasion dinner party meal. It quickly became obvious that, while the taste was sooo worth the time, the 6-7 hours I slaved away in the kitchen prepping it were less than divine. Still, for the next twelve years, I slavishly followed Julia’s every instruction. Then, one day, in a fit of time-management pique, I decided to take some short cuts and see if the sky would fall.
That night I was having a friend and her husband for dinner. She is a trained Cordon Bleu chef and owns a restaurant on Emerald Isle. I prepared both versions of the dish, Julia’s painstaking one, and my abbreviated version. Mon Dieu, the chef could not decide which was which. Since then, with my fervent apologies to Julia, I have made the version below; no one has perished or had me arrested for my transgressions yet.
This, with liberties taken, is from Julia’s cookbook “The French Chef Cookbook“.
Serves 8; 14 Points Plus value per serving (you can understand why this is a special occasion recipe!)
6 slices of lean center cut bacon
2 T. Olive oil or cooking oil
3 lbs. stewing beef cut into 2-3″ chunks and dried on paper towels (I usually use ordinary stewing beef that is already cubed)
3 cups full-bodied red wine, such as a Cabernet or Burgundy
2 cups beef stock
1 T. tomato paste
3 gloves smashed garlic
1/2 t. thyme
1 bay leaf
kosher or sea salt to taste
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
1 lb. mushrooms
1 steamer bag of microwave white pearl onions (available in the freezer section)
Bake your bacon on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet at 375 degrees until crispy, 15-20 minutes; drain on paper towels. If you’ve never made bacon this way, you will never go back to the splattery, skillet-fried method! Mess and clean-up free, I swear.
Pour the bacon cooking grease and additional oil into large skillet over moderately high heat, enough to generously film bottom of the pan. When oil is almost smoking, brown the beef, taking care not to crowd the pan; you want to caramelize the meat, not steam it! Turn beef frequently to brown all sides. Place beef in large, heavy oven-proof dish as it is browned.
Pour browning fat out of skillet, pour in 1/2 cup of red wine and scrape up all the flavorful brown bits, then add remaining wine. Pour over the browned meat and add your crumbled bacon bits and enough beef stock to cover; stir in the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover pot and set in lower third of oven preheated to 325 for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or even longer, until meat is quite tender when pierced with a fork.
While beef is cooking take 1 lb. of clean, trimmed mushrooms and brown in 1 T. butter and 1 T. olive oil; salt lightly and again take care not to overcrowd the pan so that they are not steamed, but beautifully browned. Prepare one steamer bag of white pearl onions per microwave directions and add to browned mushrooms.
When your beef is done, set the cover askew and drain the cooking liquid into a saucepan. You should have about 2 1/2 cups; if it has reduced down too much, add additional beef stock. Bring liquid to a gentle simmer and adjust to taste with salt and pepper. Cream 3 T. softened butter and 3 T. flour together to make a smooth paste. Whisk several spoonfuls of the hot liquid into your paste until well combined, then add this into remaining liquid and simmer. Add the mushrooms, onions, and meat et voila, you now have Julia’s famous boeuf bourguignon.
It’s at this point that you can confidently refrigerate and reheat for dinner later; it only gets better as the flavors meld. This makes it great fare for a dinner party because you aren’t slaving away in the kitchen ignoring your guests. Serve over hot buttered egg noodles or parsleyed new potatoes, with peas, dilled baby carrots and warm French bread. You’ll have your guests saying “Oui, oui” in no time at all!
When beef stew is in the oven, all’s right with the world, and beef bourguignon is the best beef stew known to man.
Feature photo courtesy of afoodexperience.net