This is another one of those recipes that I can’t believe I haven’t shared with you before. It’s sort of my signature dish, my ultimate comfort food, the one I love cooking for friends and family the most. It occurred to me this week that it’s been a whole year since I made it and that’s likely because the last people I made it for (my in-laws in Jordan) told me they didn’t really care for it. Alas, it hadn’t tasted good to me either, maybe because of all the substitutions I had to make to accommodate their dietary restrictions, but it’s taken me a while to want to make my go-to happy stew again. Perhaps I needed a little comforting as I pack my bags this week, as it seemed high time to dust off the Dutch oven and fill the house with the fragrant winey, beefy aromas.
Secretly, I believe this is the dish that finally sealed the deal with my dear husband. It was almost exactly five years ago that I first cooked it for him and he says that’s the night he knew we’d always be together. This is also a favorite of many of my clients, especially when I was first working in New York all of those many years ago. Serve it with a big leafy green salad (tart vinaigrette, if you please) and a very French clafouti for dessert and I think you’ve got a perfect casual dinner party. If you’re hosting an event but don’t want to have a sit-down dinner, another old catering trick is to serve this on top of mashed potatoes in martini glasses. It’s a hearty, festive party food.
Often, when I am eating out (even in Paris) I’ll order Beef Bourguignon off a menu. I warn you, after you try this version you’ll never be able to do this again! I never find that anyone’s version is quite as delicious and satisfying as this one. You may be eyeing the directions below and thinking this is a complicated, taxing dish, but it’s really not. Haven’t I given you enough reasons here to give it a try? Besides, it’s the perfect entertaining meal because you want to make it the day before your guests are coming so the pot has a night in the fridge and all of the flavors permeated the beef. And….buttery mashed potatoes are a must!
Classic Beef Bourguigon
3/4 pound of bacon, cut into small strips
3 pounds of stewing beef cut into cubes
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 pound carrots, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
1 bottle red wine
2 cups beef stock
1 pound chestnut mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch slices
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound pearl onions (frozen if you can find them)
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. In a large Dutch oven fry up the bacon until crispy. Remove to a bowl. Liberally season your beef cubes with salt and pepper and add (in a single layer so you likely have to do 3 times) to the hot bacon grease. Cook each batch for about 5 minutes, until good and crusty on the outside. Put the beef in the same bowl with the bacon and set aside. Add the carrots and yellow onion in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook for about 15 minutes on medium low heat, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a minute then pour the brandy/cognac in and set alight! Stir until the flames die down, put the beef and bacon (and all of those delicious juices) back in, add the tomato paste, thyme, red wine and beef stock making certain the beef is covered. Bring to a boil. Put your lid on the Dutch oven and place the entire thing in preheated oven for 2 hours.
While the beef is cooking, sautee the mushrooms in butter until golden (season please!). If you haven’t found frozen pearl onions you can easily remove the skin off fresh ones by placing them in boiling water for 3 minutes, allowing to cool, and then cutting the top and tail off to allow the skin to slide off. During this time also mash together the softened butter and flour – in fancy French culinary school speak this is a beurre manie or “kneaded butter” and works as a thickener for the sauce. Now go put your feet up until the stew’s ready to come out of the oven.
Put the stew on a low heat when it comes out of the oven, add the beurre manie and stir well. If it’s not thick enough to suit you, repeat this step, just make sure you use equal parts flour and butter. Add the pearl onions and mushrooms, season to your taste. Allow it to bubble away for about an hour more on low heat, until you can cut the beef with your fork and the onions are tender. Serve over mashed potatoes.