Bœuf à la Bourguignonne

It’s in the oven right now. And I can’t wait. Cooking coq-au-vin after seeing Alton Brown’s take on the dish has been on my mind for quite some time now, but I never got around to making it (shame on me). However, this past weekend I sat down with my family and watched Julie & Julia and I decided that I had to make Beef Bourguignon for Christmas Eve.

hope mine looks like this...

hope mine looks like this...

I could rattle on about the history, but it would be easier for you to read the wiki. So, I will instead go over my method (with pics, yay!) and finish off the post after dinner tonight.

a short history

As all google searches for Beef Bourguignon will tell you, the dish started out as peasant food and moved its way up into ‘haute cuisine’ as techniques and recipes were refined. You can generalize this dish as one of many varieties of a fricassee — a dish that starts with browning meat, then deglazing/stewing the meat with aromatics and vegetables in wine and broth and then finally reducing the liquid to make a thick gravy.

I think what definitely sets this dish apart from other fricassees is the meat. Farm-raised cattle always yield some really delectible cuts and as the fires of industry have helped automate farming, meat has become less flavorful. In fact, the ideal cut for coq-au-vin is an aged rooster because of the flavor the meat develops; however, since its not efficient to keep a chicken alive for more than a few months, practical alternatives are limited to thighs and breasts. This is where beef can take its rightful place as the king of meats. With enough connective tissue and spongeability, beef makes an ideal stewing meat (as do goats, lambs and sheep).

julia’s recipe

A 6-ounce chunk of bacon Remove rind, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Summer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
A 9- to 10-inch fireproof casserole 3 inches deep
1 Tb olive oil or cooking oil
A slotted spoon
Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole [dish] aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.
3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes (rump pot roast, chuck pot roast, sirloin tip, top round or bottom round in that order) Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely brown on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tb flour
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of pre-heated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to over for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
2 cups of a full-bodied, young red wine such as (Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, Bordeaux-St. Émilion, or Burgundy), or a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 Tb tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
The blanched bacon rind
Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that hte meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock, page 483
1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter, page 513
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
- When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
- Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
(*) Recipe may be completed in advance to this point
Parsely sprigs For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsely.
- For later serving: When cold, cover and refridgerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

my method

The alterations I made to dear Mrs. Child’s perfect recipe stemmed from a few sources: Alton Brown’s Coq-au-Vin, minimizing work and cleanup, and madness.  Here’s what I did:

preparation work

  1. mushrooms (~1 lb cramini)
    1. wipe with paper towel — don’t wash them or they soak up water…in fact, if you want to wash them, do so with broth, haha
    2. snap off stem and slice — in retrospect I would quarter them; I’m indifferent about using the stems
  2. white pearl onions (~35 since we <3 onions)
    1. cut off the base root with sharp knife and make small “x”
    2. ‘blanche’ in hot water for 1-2 mins, take out and shock in ice water — after a minute in ice water you will be able to squeeze them and they pop right out
    3. mistakes I made: (1) I planned on using 24 pearl onions, but my brother said, “you can never have too many onions,” and so I decided to blanche the rest…AFTER blanching the pork rind. BIG mistake, after shocking the onions there was a small film of pork fat which made it hard to squeeze the onions out. Next time, if you buy a lot of pearl onions and are thinking about not using all of them…don’t. You can NEVER have too many onions. (2) When you make the small “x”…and I do mean small…make sure it’s small. If you make a large “X” then when you squeeze the onion, you will end up squeezing a small, small thing out and the rest of the onion layers will fall apart
  3. beef (3 lbs chuck roast, 2″ cubes)
    1. dry thoroughly with paper towels
  4. pork fat (0.68 lbs salt pork with some visible meat)
    1. Julia likes bacon. Alton likes salt pork. I like both. I picked a piece of salt pork with a good amount of meat on it and sliced off the meat to immitate Julia’s “pork rind” and I sliced up the white salt pork into matchstick-sized pieces, aptly called lardons
  5. aromatics
    1. cut white onion into 6 chuncks; snap 2 medium-sized carrots and stalks of celery in half. had small bowl with 1-2 Tb of tomato paste, 1/2 tsp of dried thyme, 2 cloves crushed garlic and 1 bay leaf
  6. preheat oven to 450° F


After all the aforementioned items were assembled, I started cooking in a “casserole dish” as Julia would call it…I call it a “La Creuset”.  Another change I would make (suggestion from my co-worker) is to use a Straub casserole dish because it has a rough enamel coating, which allows for better meat browning and seasoning over time, and the lid has the self-basting stalactites when vapor condenses on the inside of the lid.  Fortunately, the meat was pretty much covered with liquid and I used pork fat, so it still turned out amazingly.

I first sweated out the fat from the lardons over medium-high heat on the stove.  I had it covered for 10 minutes as the dish takes long to heat up and it heats up faster with the lid on.  I removed the lid and waited until the bubbling (oil + water) slowed.  I then removed the lardon to a dish and let the fat heat up almost to its smoking point.  I then browned the beef a few pieces at a time (for 3 lbs it took 4 batches since I didn’t want to crowd the pot) and removed them to the same dish.  With still a lot of fat and fond in the pan, I sautéed the pearl onions for 5 minutes over medium heat and then removed them to a separate dish.  I then sautéed the sliced mushrooms for ~10 minutes over medium heat to soak up all the goodness.  Since the mushrooms left some water, I let that reduce down and re-form the fond.  I then tipped out the fat and returned the now shriveled lardons and now browned beef to the casserole.  I tossed with flour, salt and pepper as Julia recommends and baked in the preheated oven for 8 minutes uncovered (taking it out to toss once midway through).  After taking it out, I turned the oven down to 325° F.

I then took out the dish and added all the aromatics that Julia recommends (I went a little heavier on the tomato paste) plus 3/4 bottle of italian dry red wine (I KNOW — “BURGUNDY”, but Whole Foods didn’t have any — wtf — so sommelier recommended this one that she uses to cook fricassees) and broth to almost cover everything.  I also rearranged the contents so the meat was on top and the veggies on the bottom, and then into the oven it went (covered) for 3 hours.  During this time, I moved the cooled mushrooms and onions to the fridge and then took a nap or something.

I checked up on it after 30 minutes to make sure it was at a simmer (it was a little too bubbly so I turned it down to 315º F) and checked it every hour.  I think it may have benefitted from longer cooking, but this was my first time so I’ll try 4 hours next time to see the result.  I like the beef to fall apart in the mouth, which it did, but it still had some chew to it (which my brother and dad liked).

After removing the dish from the oven and tasting it (SO good), I proceeded to remove the beef to a dish and remove the vegetables and lardons to a garbage bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the liquid behind.  I cranked up the stove so that I can reduce the liquid by a third (good tip: take a wooden spoon and dip it into the liquid and then take a rubber band to mark off the original height of the liquid…you’ll know 1/3 when you keep poking it into the pan and see the level start to fall).

I put the beef and the reduced sauce into the fridge after they cooled.  To reheat before serving, I tossed the mushrooms and onions, beef pieces and the sauce into a pot and slowly warmed everything over medium-low heat until nice and hot.  I served them over some buttered fettucini pasta; I was going to use linguini, but I found the ribbons were too thin to my liking and opted for a thicker cut.

It was awesome.


cutting pearl onions
making the X
blanching the onions
shocking pearl onions
they squeeze right out
salt pork
making lardons
final lardons
drying the chuck
sweating the lardons
mmm beef
oh man, pork fat
frying the beef
frying again
removing beef to dish
cooking the onions
mmm fond
mushrooms soaking up fond
beef with flour, salt and pepper
the wine
all together now
filled to the brim
the stock
its done
separating the components
the beef
final combining
the dish


julia & julia beef bourguignon report by abc


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