For my 22nd birthday, my Nonnie gave me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Sitting at her kitchen table, as I unwrapped the tome that changed home cooking so monumentally, she gave me some advice. “Make the beef bourguignon first. And do not skip the bacon.”
Like she is on most things culinary and otherwise, my Nonnie was right. Julia Child’s beef bourguignon is perfection, worth every bit of effort, and the bacon is absolutely essential. It is easily the best braised beef I’ve ever made and I’m sure those who’ve had the pleasure of eating it with us in years since I was first gifted the book would also agree.
And what is winter for if it isn’t to embrace braising? Dedicate an afternoon to Julia’s beef bourguignon, and don’t even think about skipping the bacon.
Beef Bourguignon, adapted very slightly from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
6 oz bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2″ chunks (we used chuck roast)
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
salt, pepper, olive oil
3 cups red wine
2 – 3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf, crumbled
20 small white onions, brown-braised
1 lb fresh mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters, sautéed in butter
Preheat your oven to 450° F. If you know your bacon is quite smoky, you may want to boil the bacon in some water for a few minutes to take out some of the smoke flavor before you sauté it. This is what Julia recommends, but I usually skip this step and skip right ahead to sautéing. In a cast iron pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat. After the bacon has browned lightly, remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Take the pot with the bacon fat off the heat.
Cut the beef into 2 inch cubes and then pat them dry with paper towels. Heat the pot with the bacon fat over medium high heat until the fat is nearly smoking. If your bacon didn’t render off much fat, I would add a tablespoon of oil to the pot. Add a few cubes of the beef. Sear them, letting them sit without disturbing them for a few minutes per side, until they are a deep brown. Be sure to not crowd the pan or the beef will steam instead of browning. For about 2.5 pounds of meat, I did mine in four batches.
While the beef is browning, cut the onion and carrot into chunks. After browning the last of the meat, add the vegetables. Brown them slightly and then remove them and set them aside.
Put the beef and bacon back into the pot. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and some fresh black pepper. Toss the beef to coat. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and toss to coat again. Set the pot in the middle of your 450° oven and cook for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and cook for another 4 minutes in the oven. Reduce the heat of the oven to 325°. Return the pot to the stove top and add the vegetables, wine, broth, tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. The meat should be just barely covered by liquid. Bring to a simmer on the stove top and then place in the oven. Cook in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the pearl onions. For the pearl onions, peel them if using fresh. If using frozen, defrost in water. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the onions and brown them on each side. Once browned, add 1/2 cup beef stock, a pinch of thyme and a bay leaf and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer covered for 20 minutes, until the onions are cooked through.
If you’re making this in advance, you can prepare the beef and onions up until this point and then refrigerate them. You can then rewarm the beef by simmering it on the stove over low heat for 15 – 20 minutes before serving. I like to saute my mushrooms the day of serving because they are pretty easy to do while you’re cooking the potatoes.
In the last 45 minutes of cooking for the beef or 45 minutes before you want to eat, peel a few potatoes and cut them into quarters. Put them in a sauce pan and cover them with water. Season the water until it taste like sea water. Bring the potatoes to a boil and cook until tender, about 20 – 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes and mash them, adding a bit of butter, milk, salt and pepper to taste. I usually do this in my kitchen aid mixer.
For the mushrooms, clean 1 pound of mushrooms and then cut them into halves or quarters depending on their size. Sauté over medium heat in 2 tablespoons of butter, until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.
When the meat is tender, remove it from the oven and place on the stovetop. Skim off any fat that may be floating on the surface of the meat. In my experience, there is very little beef fat to skim off, but I generally cook with leaner grass-fed beef. You skim off any fat to prevent a greasy gravy because greasy gravy is gross. Taste the sauce for seasoning; it may need a little salt or pepper. Before serving, add in the braised onions and sautéed mushrooms to pot along with the beef and vegetables. Serve over mashed potatoes with a gravy boat of extra sauce on the side.