Today was one of those incredibly long days. I was trying a new recipe, and the smells coming from the kitchen was driving me mad. No doubt about it, Beef Bourguignon is one of those can’t wait to dive in suppers. Perfect with warm French bread and a good bottle of wine, it’s comfort food and then some.
While Beef Bourguignon first appeared in cookbooks as far back as 1903, the dish itself is much older – dating as far back as the Middle Ages. What began as “peasant” food is now considered the standard of French cuisine. Made famous by Julia Childs, this particular recipe is easy to prepare. More precise, this wonderful stew is a complex dish that defies its uncomplicated preparation.
In its humble beginnings, Beef Bourguignon was a one-pot hardy stew that evolved from necessity. The tough scraps of meat doled out to the peasants needed to braise slowly in a broth consisting mainly of wine to tenderize the meat and make it fit for human consumption. Traditionally, the meat was first larded with lardons (fat from a pig’s belly) before browning to help in the tenderizing process. Today’s stew meat is sufficiently tender and well-marbled, so this very time-consuming technique is rarely used any more. However, bacon cut into small cubes is still used to produce the initial cooking fat and render additional flavor to the finished dish.
With very little prep time in the morning, you can come home to an incredible stew at the end of a long and busy day. This is wonderful on a rainy night, warming the body and satisfying the soul. It is one of my favorite “chilly” evening comfort foods. When it comes to rainy-day suppers, this ranks right up there with another favorite, Red Wine French Beef Stew over Mashed Potatoes.
While most recipes call for the use of white (button) mushrooms, I prefer Cremini mushrooms with their firmer texture and deeper flavor. Which mushroom you use is entirely up to you.
Slow Simmer Beef Bourguignon
1 Tablespoon Bacon Drippings
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 1/2 lbs Stewing beef, cut in large chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 1/2 Tablespoons Flour
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
1/2 cup cognac
2 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cups red wine (Burgundy is the traditional wine)
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste (the kind in the tube)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced into long slivers
1 cup baby carrots or to taste
1 lb small white skinned potatoes
8 oz Cremini Mushrooms, sliced into thick chunks
1 bag frozen pearl onions
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
Bundle the thyme with butcher’s twine. Leave enough excess twine to drape over the edge of the pot. This will allow easy access to the bundle when it is time to remove the thyme from the pot.
Heat bacon drippings and oil in large heavy saute pan. If you don’t have bacon drippings on hand, simply cut up about 5 or 6 strips of bacon and fry it in a skillet. The bacon can be added to the Bourguignon at the end if desired or saved for another use.
Place flour, salt and pepper in a large resealable bag such as a freezer bag. Toss the meat in the bag with flour to coat and season.
When the oil is hot, brown the meat in 2 batches, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes per batch. Place the browned stew meat into the bottom of the crock pot and set the heat to low.
Turn off the heat and add the cognac to the pan, and scrape up all the brown bits as the liquid bubbles. Add the wine and beef stock and continue stirring until the pan is completely deglazed.
Return to heat, stir in the tomato paste and garlic, bring to a quick boil. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to use.
Add the carrots, onion slivers, potatoes, mushrooms and pearl onions to the slow cooker. Pour the wine mixture into the crock pot and give everything gentle stir to get contents to settle into the liquid. Push bundle of thyme into the center of the Bourguignon.
Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Before serving, pull thyme bundle from the pot, add a little butter to the broth and taste the broth. If necessary, add a little sprinkling of salt and cracked pepper.
Ladle Beef Bourguignon into bowls and serve with plenty of warm French Bread. A nice, full-bodied wine with further enhance the French experience.