beouf bourguignon.

February 27, 2014

This recipe originated from two pounds of boneless beef short ribs that came with our meat CSA earlier this month. Beef short ribs are great for barbecue and for stews and braised dishes. Since we don't currently have a barbecue grill, I decided instead to tackle a cherished classic - Beouf Bourguignon - which involves braising beef in red wine and vegetables until succulent and tender.

Beouf Bourguignon - beef prepared in the style of the French region of Burgundy - has many variations. As I researched this recipe, I had several goals in mind: (1) I wanted to make an updated (less fussy) version of the classic dish, while maintaining some traditional elements: adding garnishes;* straining the sauce to keep it pure; no tomatoes. (2) I wanted to make everything from scratch. This included making beef stock, which I then used to make a simplified demi-glace (a rich brown sauce used in many French dishes). The homemade ingredients are time-consuming but worth it. Making your own stocks and sauces means eliminating your intake of excessive sodium, preservatives, and unidentified "natural flavors." (3) I wanted to capture the hallmarks of this particular dish: moist, tender meat; rich and flavorful sauce; purity of the sauce and of the ingredients.

My Beouf Bourguignon is only slightly fussy, and certainly easy. The beef is hearty and succulent - the essence of winter comfort food. The fresh parsley adds a vivid green color and zesty flavor. The pearl onions add a hint of crunch to an otherwise velvety broth which is not too thick and not too watery. Eating this dish felt luxurious, a satisfying treat after two long days in the kitchen.

*A note about garnishes: nowadays, we tend to think of the purpose of garnishes as solely visual. In classical French cooking, garnishes served not only a visual function; more importantly, they added depth and complexity to a dish. Such is the case with Beouf Bourguignon. It is essentially the red wine, the pearl onions, and the mushrooms that define the dish. Preparing the onions and the mushrooms separately, and then adding them after braising, allowed these ingredients to impart their own flavors and textures to the stew. A great summary of garnishes in classical French cooking can be found here.

Slightly Fussy Beouf Bourguignon

Cooking time will vary, but if you choose to use homemade ingredients - and I hope you do - you'll need to plan for 2 days. Day 1: make the beef stock and the demi-glace. Day 2: make the stew.

-2 pounds beef - blade roast, chuck, boneless short ribs, or any cut with a lot of collagen or with visible marbling - cut into 1 inch thick cubes
-Good quality sea salt and freshly ground pepper
-1/4 cup olive oil
-3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
-2 tablespoons flour
-6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
-5 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems and caps separated, caps set aside
-2 cloves garlic, peeled
-1 bouquet garni of thyme, bay leaves, and parsley
-2 cups red wine - Burgundy or quality Pinot Noir*
-3 cups homemade beef stock (recipe below)
-1/3 cup homemade demi-glace (recipe below)

*A note about the wine: this is a dish from Burgundy, so Burgundy wine is ideal. However, Burgundy's red wines are generally made from Pinot Noir grapes, so using a quality Pinot Noir is acceptable and can save you some money. For this recipe, I bought a bottle of Domaine Berrien Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir, made in my beloved home state of Michigan. When I tasted it, I knew it was perfect. A Burgundian-style wine, it's smooth and earthy with a very full body and a velvety aftertaste. As I sipped, I imagined it infusing my short ribs with a rich, deep flavor. I bought this bottle for $16.99 at Provenance Food & Wine on Lincoln Ave in Chicago.

-2 ounces salt pork (or bacon), cut into lardons
-10 ounces pearl onions
-2 tablespoons beef stock
-Shitake mushroom caps, chopped
-A small handful of parsley, chopped or torn into small pieces
-1 pound seasonal potatoes, boiled

Prepare the braise.
Preheat the oven to 300° F.

Pat the meat dry and season it with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. Add the meat in batches and sear on all sides until it is well browned. Do not overcrowd the meat, as it will not sear properly. Sear the meat a little at a time, removing it and setting it aside as it finishes. 

When all the meat has been browned and set aside, add onions to the pot. Lower the heat to medium high and cook the onions until they are soft and golden brown (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle the flour over the onions. Continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add 2 cups of red wine. Scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the dutch oven with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil.

Return the meat to the dutch oven and add the carrots, garlic, mushroom stems, and bouquet garni. Add 3 cups homemade beef stock, 1/3 cup demi-glace, and enough water so that the liquid covers the meat by one-third (3 parts liquid to 2 parts meat). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and skim off and discard any scum that has floated to the top. Place in the oven for approximately 2 hours, but start checking after 90 minutes. When the meat is tender enough to be broken apart with a fork, return the dutch oven to the stovetop, bring to a boil, lower heat to medium, and simmer for an additional 30 minutes to allow the sauce to further thicken.

Prepare the garnishes while the stew is braising.
On medium heat, brown the salt pork lardons on all sides until they’re golden but not crisp or brittle, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the lardons to a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard the fat left in the pan but leave the caramelized juices.

While the lardons are browning, bring water to a boil in a pot. Add the pearl onions, simmer for 1 minute, and turn off the heat. Remove a few onions from the pot. When they’re cool enough to handle, cut off the root end, slip off the skin, and cut a 1/8-inch-deep cross in the root end to prevent the onions from falling apart during cooking. Repeat with the remaining onions.

Add the pearl onions to the pan and sauté on medium heat until they’re golden brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beef stock to the pan, and roll the onions around in the pan. The stock will create a glaze in which to coat the onions. Transfer the onions to the plate with the lardons.

Without cleaning the pan, add the chopped mushroom caps. Reduce heat to medium low, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook gently, tossing often, 2-3 minutes. They should be lightly browned and tender throughout. Set aside with the lardons and pearl onions.

Finishing Touches.
Use tongs to gently remove the meat from the dutch oven, and set aside. Place a strainer over a large bowl and pour the contents of the Dutch oven into it. Remove any stray pieces of meat from the strainer and set aside. Extract as much liquid from the strained vegetables as possible, then discard the vegetables. You will be left with a clean, velvety sauce.

Wipe any leftover vegetables or residue from the dutch oven. Return the strained sauce and meat to the dutch oven. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt and pepper, to taste. Warm gently on low heat.

Add the pearl onions, mushrooms, and lardons. If you like the texture of the sauce, leave it alone (I did). If you wish to thicken the sauce, you can use what is called a beurre manié - a mixture of butter and flour. Keep in mind that brown sauce should always be somewhat thin (though not watery) and should never be as thick as, for instance, a white sauce. 

Sprinkle the stew with fresh parsley and serve with boiled potatoes (the traditional way) or your choice of crusty bread, noodles, or rice. You may also choose to serve your beouf bourguignon with dijon, although many suggest that if it's good enough, it won't need the dijon (mine didn't).

Serves 3-4 people.

Adapted primarily from Anthony Bourdain via The Washington Post.

Homemade beef stock (allow 5 hours)
Adapted, barely, from Bon Appetit.

-5 pounds beef bones, cut into pieces (buy them pre-cut or ask your butcher to cut them, unless you are very skilled with a cleaver)
-4 peeled carrots, coarsely chopped
-4 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
-2 onions (white or yellow), peeled and halved
-1 head of garlic, halved
-1 small bunch of parsley
-4 springs of thyme
-2 bay leaves
-1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

Preheat oven to 450° F.  Roast bones in a roasting pan (don't overcrowd them, and use two pans if needed), turning occasionally, until browned, about 25-30 minutes. Enjoy the delicious beefy smell coming from your oven.

If you didn't already, chop the carrots and celery, and peel and halve the onions and garlic. Once the bones are browned, add the carrots, celery, onions, and garlic to the pan. Roast, turning occasionally, until the vegetables are also brown, another 25-30 minutes. 

Transfer the bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Add cold water to cover. Pour the fat out of the roasting pan (save it), add 1/2 cup water, and stir, scraping up browned bits. Note: since I used two roasting pans, I did this twice, once in each pan, which yielded a full cup of delicious brown liquid. Strain the liquid over a small bowl and then add to the stockpot. Then add the parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 4 hours. Before you wash dishes and wipe surfaces, take the rendered beef fat you poured out of the roasting pans, strain it, and place it in a clean glass jar or other container. Keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks and use it to cook potatoes and eggs, make some gravy, or maybe yorkshire pudding. Yum.

After you do some clean-up in the kitchen, I suggest that you do laundry, read a book, watch a few TED talks, and/or make yourself a drink. Return to the pot occasionally to skim foam and scum from the surface; this is an important step to produce a clean, refined stock. Add more water, if needed.

Strain the stock, then let it cool. Set aside 2 1/2 cups of stock for the demi-glace. Refrigerate the remaining stock. The amount of stock you end up with will vary slightly, but I found that my stock (which was just under 2 quarts) was a perfect amount for the demi-glace and the beouf bourguignon.

Yields about 2 quarts.

Simple, homemade demi-glace (allow 2 - 2 1/2 hours)
Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu.

-2 1/2 cups beef stock
-1 cup red wine (Burgundy or quality Pinot Noir)
-2 tablespoons chopped shallots
-2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
-1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
-1 bay leaf

Place 2 cups beef stock and all other ingredients into a large sauté pan. Simmer on medium until the mixture reduces by about 2/3. For me, this took approximately 2 hours. After one hour, I added 1/2 cup more beef stock and continued to reduce.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Place in the refrigerator to chill. The demi-glace may separate, with the sauce on the bottom and fat on the top. Scrape off the fat and discard.

Yields 1/3 - 1/2 cup of sauce. You may want to double this recipe in order to yield a bit more sauce for future recipes. If the sauce is flavorful enough, several tablespoons should suffice to infuse a great deal of flavor into the recipe. I used all of my demi-glace in this recipe because the yield was a little small.

Some notes and links
I adapted this recipe from a variety of sources, chiefly Anthony Bourdain's version; it's simple, straightforward, and modern. I was inspired by this home cook to use shitake mushrooms rather than the more traditional button mushrooms. Shitakes have a depth of flavor and a meatiness that contributed much to this stew. This recipe by Madeleine Kamman provides an elevated perspective on Beouf Bourguignon and offered more reasons not to include tomato, despite Julia Child's decision to do so. I found this recipe from The Cook's Atelier to be informative and adventurous; it also reminded me of how this luscious stew could preserve happy memories of winter as the spring season approaches. Finally, this post from Kitchen Riffs was immensely helpful in describing some of the essential elements of Beouf Bourguignon, as well as a thoughtful account of the dish's origins.

Here are some very helpful sites with information on demi-glace via La Lama Mountain Ovens // Angela's Food Love // Salvation Sisters // Chicago Tribune.

Are you vegetarian? Check out Beet Bourguignon via Green Kitchen Stories // Mushroom Bourguignon via Smitten Kitchen.

For information on salt pork/lardons:  The Kitchn // Homewords // Los Angeles Times.

This is a hilarious account of one home cook's attempt to recreate Thomas Keller's well-known, classical recipe.

Finally, How To Sear Meat Properly via The Kitchn - essential for a delicious Beouf Bourguignon.

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  1. Holy heck! So, I will admit that I didn't have time to read every last word of this epic work, but I am extremely impressed. This is so exquisite, both in terms of your attention to detail and thoroughness, as well as the awesome photographs. This is seriously professional stuff. I just hope that Sam will not be demanding that I make this any time soon, because it seems like a monumental task!

  2. Nate - thank you so much! I know, it's a very long recipe. However, if you already have some homemade beef stock, that'll cut out a lot of the labor and time. Thank you for the encouragement! I am definitely trying to take the blog in a new direction.

  3. Such a great post! Your love of food and your dedication to fresh ingredients and careful technique shines through. Yup, got to make some oxtail stew after reading this.

  4. I'm so blown away by how epic this post is. I love that you didn't just find one recipe and make a tweak or two and go. The amount of research that went into making this classic dish is so impressive!
    I also think it's interesting what you said in your note about garnishes. I think there's almost two sides to the modern approach on garnishes. Some people think, oh I'll add something green to the plate to add visual interest. While others, like the judges on Chopped, rage against competitors that put things on the plate that either don't mesh with the flavors, or even worse, are inedible. My philosophy is more with the judges--if it's on the plate, it's meant to be eaten and should be placed there with intention.
    And Nathan! I am totally demanding this dish- it would be so lovely in this winter weather ;)

  5. As epic as this post truly is, the finished product was just that much better. You should all be quite jealous.

  6. About this post though, absolutely love the more detailed style! The writing is technical enough to be understood as a recipe, but has enough passion for the food shining through both the language and pictures to make it an enjoyable read throughout. It'd be great to see a more detailed recount of future recipes as well as trips and adventures.


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