Elevated comfort food for the soul
Almost every culture has some version of braised beef, or more commonly known as beef stew. The Italians make theirs with potatoes, celery and tomato puree. The Mexicans make theirs with corn, cumin and chili powder. And the French call theirs Beef Bourguignon and it’s made with mushrooms, pearl onions and a bottle of red wine. There are countless versions around the world of variations on beef stew. But when I get that craving for a soul satisfying, mouth watering, hearty stew, nothing else will do except for the French classic, Beef Bourguignon, served alongside a big hunk of crusty rustic sourdough bread (buttered, of course) to soak up every drop of stewed deliciousness. It’s just about the best snowy night dinner to enjoy in front of the fire with a bottle of Bordeaux.
The style of cooking stew is called braising and something magical happens when you braise a meat and no one does it better than the French. Coq au vin, Cassoulet, Lapin a La Cocotte and yes, Beef Bourguignon are amongst my favorite slow cooked, French country meals. When you braise, the flavors have hours to develop and permeate every bite. When you sear or grill, you simply can’t produce the same depth of flavor as you can with braising.
This Beef Bourguignon recipe uses cognac and a full bottle of red wine that creates a rich, elegant sauce that will have you scraping every last drop from your bowl. The inclusion of mushrooms brings a second level of heartiness that complements the beef perfectly and the pearl onions and carrots pull the party together with their natural sweetness. Together, they make every bite the best bite, which is always the goal of a perfect recipe.
Rather than buy the pre-cubed stew meat from the butcher counter, I prefer to cut my own beef cubes from one large cut of chuck to ensure uniform sizes and can control the quality of the cuts.
Always make more than you think you need when you make this dish. It does not go as far as you think because everyone will go back for seconds.
- 1 tablespoon good olive oil
- 8 ounces dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon diced
- 2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound carrots sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
- 2 yellow onions sliced
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic 2 cloves
- 1/2 cup Cognac
- 1 750 ml. bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir
- 1 can 2 cups beef broth
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 1/2 teaspoon dried
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature divided
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 pound frozen whole onions
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded caps thickly sliced
- Country bread or Sour Dough toasted or grilled and rubbed with garlic clove
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley.
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
- Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
- Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.
- Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
- To serve, toast the bread in the toaster or oven. Rub each slice on 1 side with a cut clove of garlic. For each serving, spoon the stew over a slice of bread and sprinkle with parsley.