Julia Child = amazing. French cooking with lots of butter = mouth-watering. Boeuf bourguignon = incredibly time consuming, challenging, and probably not the easiest recipe to present as our first post on this blog.The inspiration for us to recreate this classic French beef stew was, predictably, a re-run of the movie Julie & Julia that we caught on TV this weekend. After seeing how Julia Child endeavored to simplify the nuances of fabulous French cuisine so that everyday American housewives could master such splendid dishes, we got inspired to take on the challenge. And yes, it was a challenge. Beyond just the sheer enormity of the time required to complete this dish, we were faced with our first real experience in French cooking. Other than the fact that we know the French like bread, butter, and mushrooms, we had no real idea about their culinary style or tastes. But what sounds better to eat on an overcast, Sunday afternoon in early fall than a warm, fragrant, filling beef stew? Enough said – we were ready to tackle the challenge.
Before you decide to recreate this dish on your own, be sure you have plenty of time; I would say that 5 hours in or near your kitchen is a safe estimate. That sounds grueling, but I can promise you that it’s well worth the effort. This dish is so flavorful, so succulent, and so make-your-stomach-smile good that you’ll be well-rewarded for every minute you spent on the preparation. This is also a fabulous dish to serve at a small dinner party (no more than 6 people), and it can easily be prepared ahead of time and then reheated right before serving. If you love the art of cooking itself and have the time, grab some wine, put on some good music, and get in the kitchen!
6-ounce chunk of thick-cut bacon (~ ¼ inch thick) [240 calories]
1 tablespoon olive oil [120 calories]
3 pounds lean stewing beef cut into 2 inch cubes (chuck or bottom round roast) [2400 calories]
1-2 carrots (sliced)
1 onion (sliced)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour [50 calories]
3 cups full-bodied red wine [600 calories]
2-3 cups beef stock [15-20 calories]
1 tablespoon tomato paste [15 calories]
2 garlic cloves (mashed)
½ teaspoon thyme
1 bay leave (crumbled)
Calories per serving: 772
Cut bacon into 1½ inch long pieces. Simmer bacon in 9-inch wide, 3-inch deep ovenproof cast-iron skillet or enameled Dutch oven with enough water to completely cover the bacon for 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and pat dry.
* Apparently, the bacon available in France is not smoked, but nearly everything you can buy in America comes with some level of smoky flavor. The simmering process is used to remove this flavor, as it will overpower the other ingredients in the dish.
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F.
Heat oil over medium heat, and sauté bacon for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain excess oil. Reheat oil/bacon fat mixture until almost smoking (medium-high heat).
Completely dry the beef cubes with paper towels; they will not brown if you skip this step. Sauté the beef, a few pieces at a time, in the oil/bacon fat until all sides are evenly browned. You’ll definitely need to flip the meat onto its individual sides of the cube for even browning. Remove the beef to the paper towels with the bacon.
Brown the sliced vegetables in the oil/bacon fat over medium heat until softened. Either pour out or reserve the oil/bacon fat for later use in another recipe.
Return the beef and bacon to the skillet/Dutch oven, and toss well with the salt and pepper until meat is evenly coated. Sprinkle in the flour in batches, making sure the meat is evenly coated. Set dish in the middle position of the pre-heated oven for 4 minutes, toss the meat, then return to oven for another 4 minutes. This will serve to brown the meat/flour mixture and create a delicious crust. Remove skillet/Dutch oven and lower oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
Stir wine into dish, and add enough beef stock so that the meat is just covered.
* Our cast iron skillet wasn’t quite 3 inches deep, so we weren’t able to totally cover the meat with the liquid. The dish came out fine though!
Add tomato paste, herbs, and garlic. Bring to a simmer on stove top (medium-high heat), then cover skillet/Dutch oven and set in lower third of the oven. Allow dish to simmer for 2½ – 3 hours, making sure the liquid is simmering slightly the entire time. Beef should be fork tender when it’s finished.
While beef is cooking, prepare the vegetables according to the recipes below, Brown-Braised Onions and Sautéed Mushrooms.
Remove skillet/Dutch oven from the oven, then pour out ingredients into a sieve set over a saucepan in the sink. Wash out dish, return meat to it, and arrange onions and mushrooms over top.
Skim fat off the sauce with a spoon and discard. Put saucepan with liquid back on the stove top, simmer over medium heat for a few minutes, skimming off any additional fat that rises to the top and discard. You should have ~ 2½ cups of sauce that is thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If sauce is too thin, boil rapidly until it thickens. If sauce is too thick, add some more beef stock.
* We didn’t have this issue; the sauce was perfect as prepared.
Taste sauce and adjust for seasoning as desired (add salt or pepper to bring out more intense flavors). Pour liquid over the meat and vegetables.
* This much of the recipe can be completed ahead of time (up to 1 day in advance) and refrigerated. When you’re ready to serve, bring dish to a low simmer on stove top, cover, and allow to simmer for ~ 10 minutes while basting the meat and vegetables with the liquid.
Julia Child suggests serving this dish with roasted potatoes, but we opted for whole wheat thin spaghetti with a little bit of butter. Honestly, it was the perfect accompaniment. The sauce of the stew just works so well with the thin spaghetti noodles; there’s plenty of ways to scoop up every last delicious bit of the stew. If you’re not worried about the carb count, crusty French bread would also probably be an amazing addition to this dish.
18-24 round white (pearl) onions (peeled) [120-160 calories]
1½ tablespoons butter [150 calories]
1½ tablespoons oil [180 calories]
½ cup beef stock [7 calories]
Salt and pepper to taste
Medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, ½ bay leaf, and ¼ teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth
Heat oil and butter in large pan over medium heat until bubbling. Add onions and sauté for ~ 10 minutes, rolling the onions to make sure they brown evenly on all sides. If you weren’t able to find fresh pearl onions at the store and had to substitute with frozen ones, make sure you let them come up to room temperature before adding to the pan. Throwing frozen pearl onions into bubbling butter and oil will not result in the delicious vegetable that you’re looking for.
* We found it very difficult to “roll” the onions in the pan; it was much easier to use a pair of tongs to flip the onions on to their various sides for even browning. Try as much as possible not to break the skin of the onion open with your tongs if you decide to use this technique.
Once onions are browned, pour in beef stock, season to taste with salt and pepper, and then add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for ~ 45 minutes until onions are tender and all of the liquid has evaporated. Remove and discard herb bouquet.
4 tablespoons butter [400 calories]
2 tablespoons oil [240 calories]
1 pound fresh mushrooms (we chose baby Portobello mushrooms that came pre-sliced) [100 calories]
2 tablespoons shallots (minced)
Salt and pepper to taste
Use a damp paper towel to “clean” the mushrooms; this basically just means wiping off whatever dirt is left on the surface of the mushrooms. Do not soak/rinse them directly in water. Thoroughly pat dry the mushrooms afterwards; if they’re slightly damp, they won’t cook properly.
Heat oil and butter in large pan over high heat. As soon as the foam from the butter starts to subside, add the mushrooms. Apparently, if you crowd the pan with too many mushrooms at once, “they will fry, not steam” and you’ll never be able to achieve a nice browning effect. If you don’t have a really large skillet/pan to cook the mushrooms in (at least 10 inches wide), cook them in batches so they have plenty of room. Toss/shake the pan for 4-5 minutes. The mushrooms will absorb the butter in the first 2-3 minutes, then release the fat, which serves as the browning medium. Once the mushrooms have browned lightly, remove from heat, and finally season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the shallots with the mushrooms, and then sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes or until the shallots have fully cooked.
If you want to make these ahead of time, say for use in another dish or as a side, complete all steps except for the seasoning and addition of the shallots. When ready to serve, reheat mushrooms on the stove top, then season and add shallots as described above.
This recipe was adapted from the original by Julia Child, which can be found in her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The cookbook publisher, Knopf Doubleday, was kind enough to add PDF versions of the three recipes incorporated into this dish on their website. The recipe in its original form can be found here
Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon.