Beef Bourguignon – A Less Fiddly, but Equally Delicious Stew

Beef Bourguignon is a delicious, traditional French stew that involves many steps if you listen to Julia Child. One of the reasons French cuisine tastes so good, I believe, is because it builds tension and suspense as you wait for the food to be prepared and cooked.

My simplified version still takes four hours to simmer, plus time in advance to gather and prep ingredients. This is ample time to build an appetite and have the smell of simmering beef and wine permeate the apartment. The method I suggest here is less fussy in the preparation time, without sacrificing flavour.

A few things to note:

This isn’t a cooking class, and I assume you already have some rudimentary cooking skills.

If you are expecting this recipe to have pearl onions, because pearl onions is one of the identifying features of beef bourguignon, I say pshaw! They are not worth the effort. The very title of this blog post is based on the elimination of said pearl onions. That said, say you are the type of person who goes to the gym at 5 am, makes your own fresh salad using a good and proper head of lettuce where you need to remove outer leaves and then rinse, spin and tear them every day in preparation for your lunch, sews your own accent pillow covers from recycled fabrics, iron your cloths, and rotate your own tires, then yes, please go ahead and spend the 30 minutes peeling and preparing your pearl onions. The rest of us will sit and spend time sampling the wine used in the stew and silently judge you.

There are still enough steps to make you feel like you accomplished something, and it will impress your friends and family when you tell them what’s involved.

Let’s begin, because as you waste time reading my blather, you could have peeled those pearl onions:

INGREDIENTS:

The meat:
3 lbs beef brisket
1/2 lb bacon (I use slab bacon)

The produce:
1 large carrot, or enough small carrots to make one large carrot
1-2 large onions, diced (use two if you are omitting the pearl onions)
1 head garlic, peeled and minced (you want at least six cloves)
1 lb mushrooms, halved (or quartered if they are large)
Potatoes, for mashing for the side dish

Pearl onions, if you insist. I found them here in a punnet of about 24 onions. Use them all, or use as many as you can before your fingernails bleed from peeling them. You are putting them in to be pretentious, not for flavour.

The herbs and spices:
Fresh thyme (I used a generous teaspoon of dried)
Bay leaves (I used 4 assorted assorted sizes of large and small)
Salt
Pepper

The pantry items:
2 tbsp olive or canola oil
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 900 mL container beef stock
1 beef bouillon cube
2 tbsp tomato paste

From the fridge:
Butter (for the mushrooms and mashed potatoes)
Milk or cream (for mashed potatoes)

The wine:
You need at least one bottle of red, but suggest two, so you can serve the same wine at supper time. I like to use a French red to keep with the theme, either a burgundy or a pinot noir.

How I Made It:

I prep everything I need in advance because I am one of those people who needs to feel in control. Feel free to wing it if you are one of those relaxed individuals who sleeps peacefully knowing full well there is an unrinsed coffee mug sitting in the sink.

Preheat your oven to 350F

Peel and chop the onions, set aside
Peel and mince the garlic, set aside
Peel and slice the carrot, set aside
Cube brisket into stew sized pieces (about 2″)
Cut bacon into lardons (small pieces)

In your best, large, oven safe stewing pot, sizzle up the bacon on the stove top. When the fat is rendered and the bacon irresistible to taste testing, pull out the bacon and set aside, leaving the bacon fat in the pot.

Next, in small batches, brown your beef. It took me four batches to brown 3 lbs of beef. As it browns, remove it from the pot and set aside with the bacon.

Check the fat. You want a good few generous tablespoons of fat on the bottom of the pot. If there is too much (you will feel your arteries thickening looking at it) take some out.

Add the onions and the carrots to the pot. Stir, and let soften. Use medium to low heat, and take your time. When it’s nearly done, add the garlic and allow to cook another few minutes.

Add back the beef and bacon, add some salt and pepper, give it a stir.

Sprinkle the flour over the meat, and give it another stir. The flour is added to thicken the stew. Let it cook over medium low heat for a few more minutes.

Now you want to add your liquid. I pour out a glass of wine for myself as a reward for my hard work, and put the remaining wine in the pot. You will want to top off the liquid with beef stock until your meat is just covered.

Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste, the bullion cube, thyme and bay leaves. Stir, and allow it to come to a nice stewy burble on the stove top.

Cover your pot and put it in the oven. Forget about it now for at least four hours.

As you approach the four hour mark, rouse yourself from your nap. Here is where you’d take the pot out of the oven, add your pearl onions to the pot, give it a stir, and put back in the oven for a bit longer.

The sensible will skip that step, and move on the mushrooms. On the stove top, melt a few tablespoons of butter and add your mushrooms with a sprinkle of salt. Stir, and once they’ve shrunk a bit and become brown, add them into the stew. Stir.

Some beef bourguignon camps will have you strain the liquid out of the pot and reduce it, then add the meat back in so you have a thick gravy. Please do this if you have a lot of liquid. However, my recipe results in a nice thick gravy without the need of this step. I’m gravy gifted.

You can eat this now, or, put it back in the oven to stay warm until you have made your mashed potatoes.

I leave potato mashing to my husband as it is his specialty: He peels and quarters big baker potatoes. He boils these in unsalted water until they are soft. He drains out the water, slashes the potatoes (his words) with a sharp knife, then mashes them with a fork, ignoring the potato masher that is less than 12 inches from his work space. He then adds an assortment of dairy from the fridge – it almost always involves butter, but could also include sour cream, whipping cream, or milk, depending on what is available. He finishes them with salt and white pepper. It has to be white pepper, because he finds black pepper unsightly in his potatoes. They always turn out perfect, creamy and lump free.

Proper food bloggers include photos of their steps and the creations. I didn’t because, well, I just didn’t think I’d end up blogging about it.

However, this morning I was inspired to write and share the recipe, so am now remorseful for the lack of picture.

In desperation, I opened the fridge and looked at our left overs, and thought well, that’s not very photogenic. But it’s real, not stolen from the net, and is what your beef bourguignon will look like the next day too.

Monday is a Fresh Start Day

It’s because I ate too much of this over the weekend:

That I have to eat more of this during the week:

But I’m not always a big fan of the crunch, so I compromise and cut up my veggies, toss with a bit of olive oil, maple syrup, a few bits of thyme and parsley like this:

Then roast it until it becomes golden brown, sweet, and delicious.  This is perfect to accompany our left over Christmas turkey breast that Mom carefully packaged up for us for just this very moment.

Sweet? Delicious? Vegetables? YES! And it has its stamp of approval from the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation. Afterall, it’s their website I found the recipe. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself:  Roasted Sweet Potato and Pepper Cubes

They even provide a picture of the finished product. I won’t show you one here, because I’m cooking it right now, and when done writing this, I’m eating it, not taking pictures.

The recipe is easy. I modified it slightly to suit Michael and I. This means I increase the ingredients to allow for left overs for lunch the next day, and replace fresh herbs for dried. I also cut back on the maple syrup because I find sweet potatoes, sweet enough.

And before I continue, let me clarify – use sweet potatoes. Not yams. Sweet potatoes. I get hung up on this like I do turnip vs rutabaga.

Roasted Red Pepper and Sweet Potato, My Way:

3 sweet potatoes (peel them, cut them into small pieces. Cube shape is impossible as the Canadian Heart & Stroke asks for. Sweet potatoes do not grow in square shapes, and you do NOT have the time to carve out cubes. Unless this is the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation’s way of increasing our activity, ignore the whole cube thing).

2 sweet peppers, cubed (I won’t belabour the cube shape again, but do wash them, cut them open, take out the seeds, and chop up the remaining bits into nice pieces you will want to eat).

1 tbsp maple syrup (Canadian Heart & Stroke says to add 2 tbsp, but I find the sweet potato sweet enough)

1 tbsp olive oil (olive oil is perfect and self-explanatory – I have no further comments about olive oil)

A flourished sprinkle of dried thyme and parsley.

Mix all this together, place on your favourite roasting pan, set in pre-heated oven set at 425F to 450F, and let roast for 40 minutes. You may want to mix things up after 20 minutes. I don’t like my vegetables forming attachments before being eaten lest they get the idea to plan an attack against humanity.

Walsh Fry Up

It’s a lazy Sunday morning. The two of us were entwined together in our cozy bed and determined to stay that way all day long until I whispered the word “bacon” in my beloved’s ear.

The covers were kicked back with maddening speed, and next thing I know I’m pulling out fry pans, thawing rashers of bacon, beating eggs, and getting bread ready for toasting.

What you see above is a rasher of English bacon, or proper bacon as Michael would say. I had to pinch this picture from the net because I did not have the foresight of a breakfast blog, but safe to say ours looked the same as the rasher above, and was purchased from Todd at Old Country Meats found at 6328 106 Street, Edmonton. This bacon is absolutely scrumptious. Quite a bit different in taste and smell than our regular North American “streaky” bacon, but it is just as satisfying with the right distribution of hearty meat and crispy fatty treat bits of piggy goodness.

A proper full English breakfast should have the following: bacon, eggs, beans, sausage, tomato, fried bread, black pudding, potatoes, mushrooms, and of course, tea. Yes, like you must also be wondering, I am also puzzled how the English fared so well in WWII with this stuff padding their arteries.

I had a few of these breakfasts when I visited England back in the 1990’s when my incurable love affair with all things English was firmly established: Coronation Street, tea, rhubarb custard sweets, the Anglican Church, Jane Austen, the Monarchy, the Beatles, Caramacs, Peter Frampton, the BBC, the Tube, the smell of fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day, rugby…

I could go on for pages, and pages, but I don’t want you to think my love is exclusive to the English. I am in love with my own country too. I mean afterall, we have mountains, bears, hockey, poutine, central heating, Sunny Boy cereal, and Jann Arden.

With our breakfast this morning, I dialed it down, and we settled for bacon, eggs, toast, coffee and tea. A Walsh fry up, which we treat ourselves to every month or so.

It’s a tricky business with timing the cooking of all breakfasty elements and have it hit the plate at the same time, but after a few decades of practice, Michael and I have it down to a science. He’s in charge of toast, I’m in charge of the rest. I bark out “Now Now Now” as his cue to get the toast toasting, and with perfect synchronicity he plates the buttery toast as the eggs and bacon hit the plate. Then we trot off to the living room, sit in front of Setanta and watch football, or more recently cricket on the Cricket Channel, as we are in the midst of The Ashes.

And as I write this, I see Michael zooming from room to room as he does the laundry, and bakes us up a loaf of his Mum’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread. His efforts should be rewarded with a picture:

Before:

After:

As I was trying zoom in for a typical close-up of the bread, Michael demanded that I don’t “Do that crazy Nigella Lawson close up shit”. So I backed up for the arial shot you see.

Sliced up with a bit of butter and strawberry jam, this stuff is delicious with a steaming cup of tea.

Wishing you all a great week ahead. XOXO