Tuesday, December 29, 2009

French Connection: Beef Bourguignon

Early this fall I was leafing through an edition of Wine Spectator magazine. There was a featured section that had a tribute to Julia Child with recipes from a variety of star chefs. My husband and I had seen Julie & Julia in the theater a month prior, and when I saw Thomas Keller’s (of French Laundry) recipe printed for Beef Bourguignon I decided I should make it. I mentioned my personal challenge to my husband, and being the carnivore he is, he was undoubtedly supportive of my quest. (You may have noticed this is my first blog post about beef. This is not coincidental. For many reasons that I can elaborate on at a another time, I rarely cook beef. Consequently, my husband usually orders it every time we dine out.)

The rest of the fall unfolded rather unfortunately, and I never found myself with a weekend to devote to this labor-intensive recipe. Finding myself with a theoretical break from work for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s, I took a break from work emails and devoted myself to making Beef Bourguignon.

In preparation of making this dish, I must have reread the recipe three-dozen times. It is quite complex – spanning across three pages of this 12.7 x 9.7 inch magazine - and with each read I attempted to visualize the cooking process. On Saturday and Sunday I visited three different grocery stores gathering all of the ingredients, in the precise form they were called for in the recipe.

For some reason I waited until Sunday night to see what other Beef Bourguignon recipes looked like. Some of them called for one pot and one day of cooking. My recipe used about six or seven pots and required a minimum of two days of cooking. Some used a little red wine; my recipe used a whole bottle. I started wondering why I had stuck to the first recipe I had seen. I further investigated and found that Thomas Keller's recipe had the main distinctions of what others claimed to be a good Beef Bourguignon: red wine aromatic reduction, overnight wine bath, and freshly cooked vegetables. While the recipe I was set to try was more complex than others, it apparently was going to have more depth.

Day 1: I started chopping the vegetables to begin the red wine reduction. I thought to myself, this isn’t bad at all. I knew I’d be disposing of them later, and just gave them all a quick, rough chop. I moved on to browning the meat, and began wishing that I was doing this step when my husband was home, because he would have gladly stepped in to assist. I made it through the three whole pounds of short ribs, and got the reduction and the meat in the oven. As the meat slowly braised, a tantalizing aroma filled the house. After a few more steps, the meat went into the fridge, and I went out the door to take the night off and meet some girlfriends for cocktails!

Day 2: My sister had called me a couple days earlier stating that she and my brother-in-law wanted to come over with their kids over for dinner. We jump at any chance that we get to see our niece and nephew, and her timing couldn’t have been better for wanting to eat dinner at our house.

The second day of preparation for this dish was mainly cooking the vegetables, as the meat only needed to be reheated. The preparation of the carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes created al dente vegetables that were deliciously flavored. To cook the pearl onions, put the onions in a pan of bowling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain them in a colander and them immediately plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process (a bowl of cold water with ice cubes). Cut off the root end of each pearl onion and squeeze the onion so it pops out of it’s skin.

Our guests arrive and the Beef Bourguignon was ready to be eaten. The meat was tender, the vegetables were tasty, and no one found a need to use any Dijon mustard as the recipe suggested. I served the Beef Bourguignon with a salad and some French bread (that could be used to sop up some of the cooking liquid). While my husband, sister, and brother-in-law made a sizeable dent in the Beef Bourguignon, I enjoyed some vegetarian lentil soup, but was proud to have put together such an intricate French dish!

Boeuf Bourguignonne
(by Thomas Keller, from Wine Spectator, September 30, 2009)
1 bottle hearty red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups diced yellow onions
1 2/3 cups peeled and sliced carrots
2 ½ cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
1 cup sliced shallots
1 cup button mushrooms, plus 32 individual mushrooms with stems cut flush to caps
12 thyme sprigs
14 Italian parsley sprigs
7 bay leaves
1 ¾ teaspoons black peppercorns
9 large garlic cloves, skin left on and smashed
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds boneless short ribs, cut into 2-inch-by-1-inch pieces
Canola oil
6 to 8 cups veal or beef stock
8 ounces small fingerling potatoes, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
16 baby carrots, halved lengthwise
4 ounces slab bacon, cut into 24 lardons 1 ½ inches long and 3 ⁄8 inch thick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 red pearl onions and 12 white pearl onions, cooked
Fleur de sel (Kate used sea salt)
Dijon mustard

1. To make the red-wine reduction, combine the wine, 1 cup onions, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup leeks, 1 cup shallots, 1 cup mush-rooms, 3 thyme sprigs, 6 Italian parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, ½ teaspoon peppercorns and 3 garlic cloves in a large ovenproof pot with a lid. Bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, or until the wine has reduced to a glaze.

2. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat 1⁄8 inch of canola oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add just enough meat so as not to crowd the pan. Brown the meat on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the meat to a paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more oil if necessary.

3. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Add 3 thyme sprigs, 3 Italian parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 2 garlic cloves, and the remaining 1 cup onions, 2⁄3 cup carrots and 11/2 cups leeks to the red-wine reduction, and toss together. Wet and wring dry enough cheesecloth to cover about 4 inches more than the diameter of the pot. Cover the vegetables with the cheesecloth, tucking in the edges to form a nest shape. Place the meat in the nest, and add enough stock to just cover the meat. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and transfer to the oven. Reduce the heat to 325° F, and cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

4. Transfer the meat to an ovenproof pot or container, and discard the cheesecloth. Strain the liquid twice through a fine strainer, the second time into a saucepan, and discard the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a boil, spooning off any fat that rises to the top of the mixture. Strain the liquid over the meat. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day, up to 3 days.

5. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Remove the meat from the refrigerator, and skim off any congealed fat from the top.

6. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan along with 2 thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf, ¼ teaspoon peppercorns, 2 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon salt. Cover the potatoes with an inch of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, cool, discard the seasonings, and set aside.

7. Place the baby carrots in a medium saucepan with 4 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon peppercorns, 2 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of salt. Cover with 11⁄2 inches water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain, cool, discard the seasonings, and set aside.

8. Spread the lardons in a single layer on a nonstick or foil-lined sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes, stir, and return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until browned. Drain on paper towels.

9. Melt the butter in a large skillet over high heat until the foam subsides. Add the remaining 32 mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium-low, and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently, tossing often, until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

10. Carefully transfer the pieces of meat to a deep, ovenproof sauté pan. Strain the liquid over the meat. Warm the meat in the oven for about 5 minutes, basting occasionally. Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and pearl onions, and toss gently. Roast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the meat and vegetables are hot.

11. Meanwhile, warm the lardons in a small skillet. Chop the leaves of the remaining 5 sprigs parsley.

12. Remove the sauté pan from the oven, and gently toss in the parsley. With a slotted spoon, divide the meat and vegetables among 4 plates. Spoon some of the sauce over each serving. Distribute the lardons among the plates. Sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve immediately with Dijon mustard.

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (Artisan)


  1. wow, beef stew, I want some, may I? :)
    you are so patient in doing all those amazing teaching, learning, and cooking..plus blogging..
    Happy New Year.


  2. Thank you, Ji! I appreciate your comments, and thanks for visiting! Happy new year to you too! :) I will have to check out your blog!