This is by far my most ambitious Paestry post yet — tonight, I made boeuf bourguignon! I hope you enjoy this post and I hope it will inspire you to make it, for braised meat dishes are delicious and most of all, quite easy to make.
It’s the ultimate comfort food. Warm, savory and filling. Boeuf (or beef) bourguignon has been rendered famous by Julia Child’s recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and from movies about her and her foray into French cuisine. I studied various recipes from her classic one here, and Ina Garten’s version here. After reading through the basics, I decided to whip up my own version based on my experience with preparing pot roasts in the past. Child’s and Garten’s recipes probably remained faithful to the classic way of preparing BB, but I was not going to buy a bottle of Cognac for the flambé step, nor was I gonna go out of my way to buy lardons of smoked bacon. So here we go. This is my version.
Basically, this dish calls for the following important steps:
1. Use a large hunk of beef. Chuck roast works well.
2. Give the beef a good sear.
3. Use good red wine.
4. Simmer for a very long time.
As long as you follow these fundamental steps, you’ll have yourself a very decent beef bourguignon. Pay particular heed to the quality of the wine you use. I am discovering tonight that better wine will lead to a better stew.
Getting the wine was the first challenge. I dashed to Trader Joe’s to see what they have and spent a good amount of time choosing the right one. This time around, I was not going to use two-buck Chuck, as I’ve done in the past. I suspected that poorer wines didn’t quite make the best pot roasts so I decided to use Pinot noir, the grape varietal that characterizes Burgundy’s famous wines, of which this dish is named after. I busted out my iPhone app that lists good wine years at various regions but I still could not be sure. Thankfully, a lady beside me was re-stocking bottles of Pinot.
“Which of these would go nicely for cooking?” I asked her.
“What are you cooking?” she asked. “A pot roast, or the like.” I replied.
“Follow me,” she said, as she invitingly showed me to another section of the aisle and presented me with this Black Mountain California Pinot noir.
It cost about $6. Not bad, I thought. She said it had light tannins and would go beautifully with my boeuf bourguignon. She knew exactly what I had in mind, and I didn’t even have to tell her! After exchanging a few niceties about having spent time in Paris, and a few more Pinot recommendations, I picked up two more bottles, the ones you see pictured above, and left to embark on my beef. This lady, by the by, was very helpful and seemed very knowledgeable about wine in general. She wasn’t like the usual younger, 30 or 20-something Trader Joe’s employees around. She was older, with gray hair and had an accent that I could not distinguish — perhaps British. When she said she spent the ’70s in Paris, I decided to trust her.
It’s a very good thing that I did because the wine was rather fantastic. I opened it the moment I got home to taste it. After a couple sips, I almost did not want to cook with it because I liked it that much.
Good wine is important but another factor that helps with braised dishes is using a heavy pot. I used my cherished Le Creuset dutch oven, as you see here.
I’ve had this since college and it has produced countless wonderful dishes! The iron-clad pot gets very hot — perfect for searing the meat and later, even more perfect for slow-cooking over low heat.
So to begin, get your mirepoix ready. Mirepoix is, as I’ve heard Emeril Lagasse call it, the holy trinity of cooking — celery, onion and carrot. Traditional BB won’t call for celery but I like it very much in my stews so I tossed them in. Then get your bacon, or lardons if you’re fancy. I used slices of fatty unseasoned pork bacon that I had in the freezer. Saute the bacon in olive oil until it’s crispy, like so.
In the leftover grease from the bacon, get your beef (make sure they are dried with paper towels for a good sear) and brown it on all sides. Once browned, take the meat out out of the pan, set aside and cover. You should have a good amount of delicious melted grease in the pan. Cook your chopped vegetables until they become soft and the onions, translucent.
Tuck the meat back in the cooked mirepoix, and pour the entire bottle of red wine into the pot. You should see it bubble up gloriously…
When beef meets red wine, something magical happens. It’s pure poetry, to be honest. Those of you who like to enjoy a glass of red with a perfectly cooked rare steak will understand. And when you cook beef juices and wine together under low heat for a long period of time, the sparks fly. Fine music suddenly comes to mind. An ideal marriage is made.
A note about the wine: I saw that a spoonful of the wine sauce appeared more on the brick-red side and had clarity. I’ve used Cabarnet and Shiraz in the past with less appealing results. The wine looked purplish and opaque once added to the meat. I did not like that. The reddish brown beginnings of the wine sauce you see here, was encouraging.
Next, mix in heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. This will add additional richness to your roast. And so, after simmering for about three hours, the sauce turns to this:
Aren’t you amazed? I was! Once the meat is very tender and the sauce reduced, mix a tablespoon of softened butter with some flour for an uncooked roux. Add this paste to your bubbling stew. This will thicken the sauce. I did not take picutres of this step but I wish I did because miraculously, the beef juices thickened and became viscous like a proper sauce. If you prefer your pot roast to be on the thinner side, you could skip the roux.
Lastly, add sauteed mushrooms into the pot and let it simmer for an additional 15 minutes before serving.
I had mine with some nice quinoa. You could eat the roast as is with some crusty bread or you could it put it on top of pasta or a nice heap of mashed potatoes. Anything goes.
Upon tasting the finished dish, the following crossed my mind — what just happened? This is the best tasting braised beef dish I have ever made. Could it be because of the wine?
I think the wine was indeed the key to tonight’s success. I can’t say the same outcome will happen in the future when I make this dish again but regardless, I guarantee you, I will make it again and again and again…