Back when I was single, I’d often cook myself beef liver for meals. It was cheap and I loved it, especially with eggs, which were also affordable. I had no other meat experience. Nor with vegetables, other than salad.
So I marry at 25 and know I need to learn how to cook and put daily meals together for my husband and myself. Plus, my husband didn’t eat liver.
Fortunately I was fearless in the kitchen. I jumped into this set of cookbooks from Time-Life – called Foods of the World – that my mother gifted me when we married, and proceeded to cook. My naïveté helped me.
Peking duck? Sure! Tempura? Of course! Rogan Josh? Certainly. Nothing intimidated me, except crazy desserts and pastries, which still do…
When it came to the Provincial French cookbook, I dove in with the same enthusiasm I had for every other cookbook, with glorious results.
Take this boeuf bourguignon. Every aspect of this dish is prepped separately prior to being added together at the end.
I learned how to use salt pork, a new ingredient for me, poaching it first to get rid of all of the salt. I learned how to respect mushrooms, those water-gorged fungi. I peeled pearl onions, not my favorite chore. And I quickly learned how to use good wine in cooking, not one that turns everything purple.
So if you’re willing to spend a little more time to create an outstanding French Burgundian specialty, you will be so happy you did. Nothing is hard, well, except for those darn pearl onions. This recipe just takes a bit of time.
Beef Stew with Red Wine
To serve 6 – 8
To ensure that no one element in your boeuf bourguignon is overdone, cook the onions, mushrooms and beef separately before finally combining them. Although the different steps may be taken simultaneously, it is easier to deal with them one at a time.
1/2 pound lean salt pork, cut into strips about 1 1/2” long
and 1/4” in diameter
1 quart water
1 tablespoon butter
18 – 24 peeled white onions, about 1” in diameter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. To remove excess saltiness, the salt pork should be blanched by simmering it in 1 quart of water for 5 minutes; drain on paper towels and pat dry.
In a heavy skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over moderate heat, and in it brown the pork, stirring the pieces frequently, until they are crisp and golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels.
In the rendered fat left in the skillet, brown the onions lightly over moderately high heat, shaking the pan occasionally to roll them around and color them as evenly as possible.
Transfer the onions to a shallow baking dish large enough to hold them in one layer, and sprinkle them with 3 tablespoons of pork fat. (Set the skillet aside, leaving the rest of the fat in it.) Bake the onions uncovered, turning them once or twice, for 30 minutes or until they are barely tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and set aside.
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 pound fresh mushrooms, whole if small, sliced in large
While the onions are baking or after they are done, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat in a skillet. When the foam subsides, cook the mushrooms, tossing and turning them frequently, for 2 or 3 minutes, or until they are slightly soft.
Add the mushrooms to the onions and set aside.
3 pound lean boneless beef chuck or rump, cut into 2” chunks
Bouquet garni made of 4 parsley sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied together
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup very finely chopped carrots
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup hot beef stock
2 cups red Burgundy
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Make sure the oven is preheated to 350 degrees F. Pour almost all of the rendered pork fat from the skillet in which the onions browned into a small bowl, leaving just enough to make a thin film about 1/16” deep on the bottom of the pan.
Over moderately high heat, bring the fat almost to the smoking point. Dry the beef with paper towels, then brown it in the fat, 4 or 5 chunks at a time to avoid crowding the skillet.
Add more pork fat as needed. When the chunks are brown on all sides, remove them with kitchen tongs to a heavy, flameproof 5-6 quart casserole. Bury the bouquet garni in the meat.
After all the beef if browned, add the chopped shallots and carrots to the fat remaining in the pan and cook them over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are lightly colored. Stir in the flour. (If the mixture looks dry, add a little more pork fat.)
Return the skillet to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour begins to brown lightly, but be careful it doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat, let cool a moment, then pour in the hot beef stock, blending vigorously with a wire whisk.
Blend in the wine and the tomato paste and bring to a boil, whisking constantly as the sauce thickens.
Mix in the garlic, thyme, sautéed pork strips, salt and a few grinding of black pepper, and pour the sauce over the beef, stirring gently to moisten it thoroughly. the sauce should almost, but not quite, cover the meat; add more wine or stock if needed.
Bring to a boil on top of the stove, cover tightly, and place the casserole in the lower third of the oven. Let the beef cook, regulating the oven heat so the meat simmers slowly, 2 – 3 hours, or until the meat is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
Then gently stir the browned onions and mushrooms, together with any juices that may have accumulated under them, into the casserole.
With a large spoon, gently mix the beef and vegetables with the sauce in the casserole. Continue baking for another 15 minutes.
To serve, remove the bouquet garni, and skim off any fat from the surface.
Taste the sauce and season it with salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle the beef with parsley and serve it directly from the casserole.
In the past I’ve served this luscious stew over fresh pasta, but this time I was lazy and cooked some fettuccine.
It’s also wonderful, as you can imagine, over any kind of potato – mashed, roasted, a gratin…
The full flavors of this beef stew are so intense. It’s rich in a way, but rich with flavors of wine and thyme. The onions and mushrooms add delightful texture as well.
Use a good wine – something you’d serve with this dish.
You can serve the stew as you would chili, in a warm bowl without toppings, of course, but I prefer a base of pasta or potatoes.