The very first time I had ever tried Boeuf Bourguignon was at the age of 10 when staying with my great aunt Micheline in the Loire Valley. Every summer, my family would spend a couple of weeks with our relatives in Meung-sur-Loire (country home of Georges Simenon’s fictional detective Jules Maigret – for the literary buffs out there) and be immersed into the world of traditional French cooking (and Alsatian for that matter – as she was brought up before the war in a village on the outskirts of Strasbourg). Traditional did not mean boring – but great tasting recipes – of which Boeuf Bourguignon become my childhood favourite.
What I do remember are the truly delicious and succulent chunks of beef which simply melted in the mouth – aided entirely by a combination of marinading in wine for 24+ hours then oven cooked in a moderate temperature oven for nearly 3 hours. Maybe it was this which spearheaded my love for the flavour of wine – somewhat prematurely – a claim I am sure my mother would attest to.
Like so many classic recipes, I have certainly seen (and devoured for that matter) a significant number of variations of Boeuf Bourguignon. Maybe nostalgia, maybe bias, but I really do think this is my favourite and also my ultimate comfort food. In terms of alternative versions, I have only relatively recently got around to watching the 1999 film Jules & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, and discovered that one of the recipes featured was a Boeuf Bourguignon which prompted me to purchase a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child, Bertholle, and Beck – to compare against the recipe that I had committed to my memory since childhood. Having eventually found the recipe in the hefty tome, I was taken aback by (with the exception of the bulk of the core ingredients), how different the method to this French classic was from what I had learned as a child. Should anyone have a copy of this book, look for the snappily titled Sauté de Boeuf a la Bourguignonne (page 345-6 in the 2001 edition) and compare notes.
I would love to go back in time and have a cook off between my aunt Micheline and Julia Child – however, and mild dose of prejudice aside, I would certainly have no choice but to vote in favour of aunt Micheline- after all it was her who inspired me from an early age.
To this day Boeuf Bourguignon has become my signature dish which I have cooked on many an occasion for dinner guests who have all given it their seal of approval. My version will provide plenty of richly-flavoured beef and red wine which is crying out to be mopped up with either a wholesome mash, rice (I think Carmargue Rouge rice goes really well) and even pasta if caught short of time – my favourite being tagliatelle with its sauce-absorbing qualities. Should you have time to make a mash with a difference, check out my recipe for Potato, Parsnip and Carrot mash with Wholegrain Dijon Mustard. I really think it is a winning combination.
- 2 kg joint beef trimmed of fat and cut into generous bite-size pieces
- 750 ml bottle red wine
- 2 large cloves garlic grated or finely sliced
- 6 bay leaves
- freshly milled sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 300 ml good quality beef stock
- 1 large tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp herbes de provence
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- large knob butter
- 10 echalion banana shallots, peeled and sliced vertically
- 6 slices good quality thick smoked bacon cut into chunks
- 12 chestnut mushrooms cleaned and cut in half
- 1 large glug of brandy or cognac
- 1 tbsp corn flour
- sea salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste
- Trim fat from the beef joint and cut into generous bite size cubes.Season well will sea salt and freshly milled black pepper. Add the bay leaves, grated garlic and cover with red wine. Mix well, cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 24 hours or so.
- Remove the marinated beef and drain in a colander, ensuring that you save the wine. Allow the chucks of beef to reach room temperature to ensure that the meat is as tender as possible.
- In a large frying pan, heat up 2 tbsp olive oil at a medium/high heat, and add half of the butter. Once melted and starting to brown, add as much of the beef which comfortably fits into the pan. Turn over using silicone tongs until lightly browned all over. Transfer meat to a large casserole dish, and cook the remainder of the beef in batches (adding a little more oil/butter as required).
- Next, add the halved echalion shallots and bacon to the ban, and sweat down on a medium heat for 2-4 minutes, or until the bacon is cooked and shallots have softened. Transfer into the casserole and mix well.
- Preheat fan assisted oven to 200C.
- Then, add the reserved wine marinade and beef stock to the pan, (and any additional wine not used in the marinade marinade), season well, then and bring to the boil. Add a heaped tablespoon Dijon mustard, herbes de provences and mix well using a bell whisk. Simmer the sauce for 10 mins or so then add a blend of cornflour and water to thicken the sauce. Stir well.
- Pour into the casserole dish, making sure all the meat is covered and cook for 25 mins, then reduce heat to 160C. After 90 mins, remove from oven and add the mushrooms and a glug of flaming brandy (or cognac) and stir thoroughly.
- Return to oven and cook for a further 30-40 mins, then serve piping hot.
As an alternative to chestnut mushrooms, why not try shiitake? I have used on a couple of occasions and works a treat.
Finally, do not worry if the whole casserole cannot be devoured on the first sitting, it reheats just fine and some would argue that it tastes even better the second time around. Gently simmering in a pan until piping hot instead of a zap in the microwave is always preferred.