Boeuf Bourguignon is a classic French concoction that braises beef chunks with red wine, preferably a full bodied one such as a Burgundy or a Cabernet Sauvignon. Included also in the stew are garlic, shallots, onions and other aromatics such as thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. It is finished off with pearl onions and lardons and served with boiled potatoes.
I have come across numerous variations of this popular stew. There was one by Julia Child that looked pretty interesting and another by Anthony Bourdain that was equally appealing. I was all set to make Bourdain’s version – having had much success with his Coq Au Vin– until I revisited the Bouchon cookbook and found that Thomas Keller also had a boeuf bourguignon – a recipe resplendent with a 43 ingredient list.
One might ask who in their right mind would undertake such an endeavor?! Kitchen masochist comes to mind. Short of delving into the realms of my muddled brain, and I do hate to psycho-analyze my kitchen sense; I could attribute this unrelenting desire for complex recipes to only one thing — passion. When it comes to food, short cuts are not an option especially if I have the time to make a dish properly. This is not to say that Bourdain’s or Julia’s recipes were inferior to Keller’s – far from it. The Bouchon recipe just had the necessary intrigue to compel me to make it. In any case, bustling in the kitchen with pots and pans, flour and butter, onions and garlic and having a glass of wine sitting by the cutting board, is a comforting thought I hold on to during any given work week.
I don’t compromise on ingredients either. It has to be the freshest and be of the best quality I can find – at a reasonable price of course. Many a time has a dish been ruined because one of the ingredients was past its prime. And with a recipe with quite the ingredient list and entailing quite an effort to make, I am not risking a thing.
So off I went to The Fresh Market on a Thursday evening. The freshest thyme, parsley and leeks were bought. No French carrots were to be found, but cute little organic baby carrots were available. Nice looking bulbs of shallots were also on the shelf. I had to pick through the onions though, but I was able to score some three firm bulbs that had nary a blemish on them. I came up with quite an ingenuous method of figuring out the elements needed for the stew. I typed up a worksheet. Yes a worksheet! Download boeuf_bourguinon.xls
Geeky, really, but very helpful. The recipe is more about vertical cooking. The columns correspond to a cooking stage with the ingredient list needed to complete it. The rows will give you an idea how much you need to have of a certain ingredient for the entire recipe.
Friday morning, it got quite chilly. It was almost as if the weather was cooperating with my stew-making aspirations. I went to Sur La Table for a few choice items. My favorite take of that day was the snazzy blue colander I intended to rinse my herbs in. If I was going to be chopping herbs all day might as well have something stylish to wash them in. My plan was to get the meat braising done so all I had to do for Saturday dinner was to prepare the garnishments.
Keller’s recipe is indeed one of refinement. His technique requires removing impurities at every opportunity. This includes removing the fat and vegetable particles from the sauce which tend to interfere with the flavor and dull the color. In summary, he separates the meat from the braising liquid by a cheesecloth so vegetable particles do not cling to the meat but still allows the liquid to flavor the meat. Then he discards all the mushy vegetables and cooks the garnishments with the same herbs and spices he used for the stew. What you have then is perfectly cooked meat, vibrantly orange carrots and firm potatoes.
Adapted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller
For the Red Wine Reduction:
Combine all ingredients for the wine reduction in a large heavy bottomed pot that will able to hold the meat in a single layer. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the wine is reduced to glaze about 50 to 60 minutes.
For the Beef:
Cut the meat to 1 ½ inch by 1 inch thick. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1/8 inch of Canola oil in a sauté pan. Brown the beef in batches. Make sure not to crowd the beef in the sauté pan so the beef does not steam-cook and will brown properly on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet and proceed with the next batch.
Preheat oven to 350 F
Add the onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves to the reduction and toss together. Cut a piece of cheese cloth large enough to cover the length and width of the pot. Wet it and wring it dry and lay it gently over the vegetables to form a nest for the meat. (The cheesecloth will allow the liquid to flavor the meat but prevent the herbs and vegetables from clinging to it). Place the short ribs on the cheesecloth and add enough stock to come up just to the top of the meat.
Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium high heat. Cover the meat with a parchment lid (parchment paper with a hole in the middle that covers the contents of the pot) and with the pot lid. Place in the oven and reduce the heat to 325F. Braise the beef for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.
Transfer the meat to an oven proof pot or container. Remove and discard the cheesecloth. Strain the braising liquid and bring to a boil. Skim off the fat that rises to the top. Strain the liquid again over the beef. Let it cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day, or up to 3 days.
For the Garnish:
Preheat oven to 375 °F
Put the ingredients in a pot with the potatoes. Cover with water for at least an inch over the potatoes and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a paring knife. Discard the seasonings and slice the potato lengthwise in half. Set aside.
Put the ingredients in a pot with the carrots. Cover with water for at least 1 ½ inch over the carrots and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the carrots can be pierced easily with a paring knife. Discard seasonings and set aside.
Spread the lardons in a single layer in a non-stick baking pan and place in the oven. After about 10 minutes, stir the lardons and return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until they are browned. Remove from the oven and drain on paper towels.
Trim away the stems of the mushrooms (I used the stems in the wine reduction). Heat the butter in a large skillet until the butter has melted and the foam has subsided. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium low, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook gently, tossing often, until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 250°F
Place the container with the beef in the oven for a few minutes just enough to liquefy the stock. Remove from oven and turn the oven up to 400F. Carefully remove the pieces of beef to a deep ovenproof sauté pan. Strain the liquid over the beef.
Place the pan in the oven and warm the beef for about 5 minutes basting occasionally with the cooking liquid. Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and onions and toss gently. Return to the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables and meat are hot.
Meanwhile, rewarm the lardons in a small skillet.
Remove the sauté pan from the oven and gently toss in the parsley. With a slotted spoon, divide the meat and vegetables among serving plates or bowls. Spoon some of the sauce over each serving. Distribute the lardons among the plates and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Serve with Dijon mustard.
The recipe itself is not hard to make. How hard can boiling potatoes or carrots be? It is laborious in the preparation of the onions, leeks, shallots and the rest of the aromatics but once you get your mise en place knocked off, the rest is simply throwing it in the pot and letting it boil and then simmer. I also braised at a lower temperature, 300 °F. I have always done this after Cook’s Illustrated did a test on pot roast and it was determined that this was the temperature that the connective tissue will break down without drying out the meat.
The one thing I am not certain about is what to do with the braising liquid after the meat is done. It did say to boil, but did not mention to what extent it should be reduced. There was a lot of the liquid left, so after I strained it back into the pot to boil, I let it reduce to almost half – until it was thick enough to be a sauce rather than a stock. I also adjusted the salt at this time.
I apologize for not taking a plated picture of the dish for we were all eager to eat it. I also prepared Nigella’s Chicken recipe so my hands were quite full.
Keller’s bouef bourguignon was simply delicious! The meat was so tender and perfectly cooked. The resulting sauce was bursting with the essence of all the aromatics. Not one spice or herb stood out but all blended to complement the beefy flavor of the short ribs. Also, the garnishments finished off the dish to perfection. Well you can’t go wrong with crisped lardons now, can you?
* Preparing pearl onions
1 bay leaf
12 black peppercorns
1 thyme sprig
2 tsp red wine vinegar for red onions, champagne vinegar for yellow or white
To peel the onions, cut an X in the root end of each onion and place in a bowl. Meanwhile, bring to a boil enough water to cover the onions. Pour the boiling water over the onions. When the onion skins have softened enough to be peeled, drain the onions. Peel them when they are cool enough to handle. Trim the roots if necessary.
Place the onions in a saucepan that will hold them in a single or double layer, add cold water to cover them by 1 inch, and season the water with the bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the onions are tender when pierced with a paring knife.
Drain off all but 2 tbs. of water from the pan and stir in the vinegar. (The onions can be kept at room temperature for up to 1 hour or covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day)
We had snow that Saturday the stew was to be completed! I was shocked to see the entire back yard covered in white. Where in the world did spring go? The first thought on my mind was not the dinner I was preparing that day but poor Mrs. Bluebird that was incubating some eggs in one of my nest boxes. Surely Mr. Bluebird cannot find any food to bring to his sweetie in all this snowiness. I had a view of their feeder from my bedroom window and sure enough the pair was waiting to be fed. Anyway, I leave you all with a picture of Mr. Blue standing guard over the shepherd’s hook that holds their day’s supply of food.(Even birds are passionate about food!)