Although Julia Child popularised this classic French dish on the very first episode of her television show ‘The French Chef’, beef bourguignon owes its roots to the prized Charolais cattle breed of the Charolles region in southern Burgundy. Fed only cereal, hay and fodder, these white cattle are known for their size and muscling, and, for imparting a distinctive taste that has revolutionised the cattle industry in the United States since the 1960s. While originating as a simple peasant dish, Auguste Escoffier transformed beef bourguignon into a classic of haute cuisine; his 1903 recipe using a whole piece of beef became the standard bearer. However, when Julia Child decided to share her affection for French cuisine with the American populace, she used cubed meat instead; thus, transmitting her vision to a wider audience. Braised in a red Burgundy and beef stock, flavoured with bouquet garni and enhanced with pearl onions and mushrooms, one cannot help but concur with Julia Child that beef bourguignon is ‘certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.’ Serve this delicacy at your next dinner party with a good quality red wine containing sufficient tannins to counteract the rich meat (such as a Burgundy: Pinot Noir or Gamay), and some crusty bread – add a dash of parsley for garnish just to be sure.
Beef Bourguignon (Serves 4-6)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red onion, cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
750 ml beef stock
225 g pancetta, cubed (optional)
3 cloves garlic, crushed with heel of knife
2 tbl tomato paste
2 tbl flour
2 bottles red burgundy (one for cooking; one for drinking)
1-1.5 kg stewing beef or beef shin, cubed
4-6 stalks of parsley
3 stalks of thyme
2 stalks of sage
1 tbl paprika or allspice (optional)
Salt and pepper
500 g porcini mushrooms; 250 g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 whole garlic clove, crushed with heel of knife
20 small pearl onions, peeled, left whole
salt and pepper
1-2 tbl thyme, chopped
250 ml beef stock
***(if you want to really impress your friends and get the most flavour from the meat: marinade the beef cubes in a bottle of red wine and a handful of peppercorns by refrigerating in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap for 18-24 hours. Before beginning with step 1, drain off marinade and reserve, adding it back in at step 4 instead of the fresh bottle of red wine. Pat beef cubes dry with paper towels very well and begin with the browning part of step 1. )***
- Preheat oven to 190 C. Put the stewing beef in large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Put a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stove. If using pancetta cubes, sauté them in olive oil in the dutch oven until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
- Add a little butter to the dutch oven and brown the meat off (this should be done in batches – it is a very important step so take your time!); when done, remove the meat from the pan and set aside with the pancetta.
- Add a drizzle of olive oil into the same dutch oven and sauté the carrots, onions, garlic and herbs (parsley, thyme, sage) for 2-3 min. Return the browned meat (and pancetta if using) to the dutch oven and add the flour. Cover and put in oven for 3-4 min.
- Take dutch oven out of the oven, put it back on the stove over medium-high heat and uncover. Add in tomato paste and mix altogether, then add in ¾ bottle of red wine, 750 ml beef stock and enough water to cover the meat entirely. Add in the bay leaves and 2 tsps pepper and paprika or allspice (if using). Bring to a boil. Once at a boil, put the cover back on and return to the oven. Let cook for 3-4 hours, checking every hour on the liquid – the meat should be submerged throughout cooking.
Meanwhile, prepare mushrooms and onions:
For the mushrooms: sauté the sliced mushrooms in a large sauté pan with butter and crushed garlic over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper (2-3 min). Remove garlic clove and set aside. The mushrooms will be added to the beef stew for the last 35 min of cooking.
For onions: brown off whole small onions in olive oil (medium-high heat) in a small sauté pan (2-3 min each side); add in the chopped thyme and 250 ml of beef stock. Turn the heat down and let simmer until the stock has reduced and the onions are tender. Set aside. They can either be added to the stew with the mushrooms or served separately on the side.
To finish the stew (35 min before serving):
- Take the dutch oven out of oven; uncover it and strain off the liquid using a sieve. Remove garlic cloves, bay leaves and herbs. Return the meat, carrots and liquid to the dutch oven. At this point the beef should be very tender. Add in the mushrooms (and onions if desired). Cover and put back in oven so that all the flavours can meld together for 25 min.
- 5-10 min before serving, take it out of oven and check on the consistency – it should have thickened to a nice stew. If it is too thin, let it reduce uncovered until it is the right consistency, if it is too thick, add a bit of water or wine and bring to a boil.
- Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and crusty bread and the 2nd bottle of red wine.