I remember the first time I saw Julia Child’s famous boeuf bourguignon recipe – it seemed daunting. I’m not usually one to take on complicated recipes, although I do appreciate them knowing that the end results are almost always worth it. Actually, I wouldn’t say that Julia’s recipe is particularly complicated, but it is pretty elaborate and I don’t usually have the sort of time to commit to an elaborate recipe, and I don’t know a lot of people that do. So after some experimenting, I have come up with a very simple version that will give you just as good of results – as Julia says in her book Mastering The Art of French Cooking “there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man”. For the below recipe, cooking time is several hours, but the actual commitment is about an hour, including prep, browning the meat, checking the pot in the oven a few minutes each hour, and clean-up time. Trust me, it is a piece of cake!
First of all, the original recipe calls for bacon chunk, which is something you have to ask for from your butcher – we get our bacon from a pork grower at the farmer’s market that does not keep this on hand at the market, but will bring it in specially if you ask – but again, who has time for that? You would have to be the kind of person that plans their meals weeks in advance – and that just doesn’t happen with me. So I used regular bacon slices instead.
Second, I don’t know what cut of beef I actually used for this recipe. The truth is, I had a few roasts in my freezer that were unlabeled that came from my family’s farm. It doesn’t really matter (I know, gasp!) – you’ll be cooking it for several hours and it will fall apart in your mouth when it’s ready – it will be amazing. Go ahead and get the cheaper cut – it should be fairly lean though as there is already lots of fat in the bacon. My roast was probably about 5lbs and I just cut it up into about 1 1/2 – 2 inch cubes.
Third, Julia’s original recipe does not have a lot of vegetables in it. It has an onion, one carrot, mushrooms and a bunch of pearl onions. I omitted the mushrooms, but I did add several more carrots and some new potatoes. Julia’s original recipe cooks the mushrooms and pearl onions separately in an herb broth, but I didn’t want to dirty more dishes, so my vegetables just got thrown in to the pot for the last hour of cooking. She also suggests serving boiled potatoes with the dish, but I figured the potatoes would retain more of their nutritional value if I just threw them in with the beef.
I would suggest using a large cast iron dutch oven for this recipe. You’ll need a pot that you can transfer from the oven to the stove and back to the oven – the pot needs to be able to regulate heat well and I’ve found that cast iron is the best material for this purpose.
Simple Boeuf Bourguignon
– 8 slices of bacon
– 4-5 pounds of lean stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2 – 2 inch cubes
– 1 onion, chopped
– Ground black pepper
– 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
– 1 bottle of red wine (I used a bottle of the store-brand reserve red wine, it was very inexpensive but also was pretty good quality. Don’t spend a ton of money on a bottle of wine, but make sure you get something that is at least drinkable on its own)
– 3-4 cups of beef stock
– 1 tbsp tomato paste (did you know that instead of buying cans of tomato paste, you can buy tomato paste concentrate in tubes that store in the fridge and last for several months?! This was a life-altering discovery for me)
– 2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a knife (add more if you’re a garlic nut like I am)
– A few sprigs of fresh thyme (you’ll also need fresh thyme for your herb bouquet below)
– 1 large bay leaf
– 3-4 carrots, peeled and cut in to 1 inch lengths
– 15-20 whole new potatoes, washed
– 20 pearl onions, skins removed
– Fresh herb bouquet (parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage) – you can tie it with baker’s twine or in cheesecloth.
– In a large cast iron dutch oven, fry your bacon on medium heat until it is slightly cooked and the greases have been released (you’ll be browning your beef in this afterwards). Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside on a plate.
– Dry your beef very well on paper towels – beef does not brown properly if it is wet. Brown a few pieces of the beef at a time in the bacon grease on medium heat – do not overcrowd the beef while it browns! It took me three batches to brown my beef so be very patient, this is one of the most important steps. Put the browned beef aside with the bacon.
– Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
– Cook the chopped yellow onion in the remaining grease and then turn off the stove for now.
– Add the beef and bacon to the onion in the dutch oven. Coat everything with pepper and 2 tbsp of flour (you do not need to add salt – I find that there is enough salt between the bacon and beef broth). Put the pot (uncovered) in the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Take the pot out, stir everything and put it back in the oven for another 4 minutes. This creates a nice crust on everything. Remove the pot from the oven and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
– On the stove top, pour beef stock and red wine (equal amounts of each – reserve the remaining for later) over the beef until it is just barely covered – stir in the garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and tomato paste. Bring the pot to a simmer.
– Put the pot (covered) back in to the oven and check it about every hour until finished (it is about 3-4 hours for me). Be careful that the liquid does not evaporate completely! It will reduce quite a bit while cooking, but you can add additional wine and stock – the liquid should be thick at the end. The beef is ready when it easily comes apart with a fork – it should actually just fall apart from being so tender. Your beef will be tough for quite a while during the cooking time but it will eventually take a turn for the better and become really, really tender – this is what all the time was for. About an hour before your beef is ready, you’ll want to add in the new potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and herb bouquet. You’re probably asking how you’ll know when this time comes – you know when your beef starts to become easier to stab with a fork (prior to this point it was probably very tough). Add the vegetables and possibly a little bit of stock (don’t add too much – the vegetables do not need to be submerged, they will cook from the steam and heat in the dutch oven). After the last hour is complete and you’ve taken the pot out of the oven, remove and discard the herb bouquet and bay leaf from before.
I usually serve my stew with these parmesan thyme buns from Sweet Paul – they are very simple to make. The dough takes about an hour to rise and once your beef comes out of the oven, just turn the temperature up and shape your buns while the oven is heating. The buns take about 15 minutes to bake.
That’s it! Very simple and not daunting at all. Enjoy!
I found a PDF online of Julia’s original recipe which also includes some recommended beef cuts.