Boeuf Bourguignon is “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man” Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Stews date at least back to the Middle Ages, and the cuisines of most countries include famous stews (Belgian carbonnade, Hungarian goulash, Moroccan tagine, Spanish cocido, to mention just a few). Their advantages are numerous: combining meat with vegetables, they are a one dish meal; made with slow, often unsupervised simmering, they are easy on the cook and can be prepared in advance and reheated; meat cut into small pieces and sauced with vegetables can disguise the proportions of cheap and expensive ingredients; and, when clean up time arrives, a one pot meal offers fewer dishes.
One of the most famous beef stews is boeuf Bourguignon, a peasant dish that has been refined over years into haute cuisine. Its roots are in the Burgundy (Bourgogne) region of France. In its purest form, meat from the region’s Charolais cattle, known for its tenderness and succulence, is braised in a full-bodied Burgundy red wine, vegetables and a bouquet garni. It is often made two days before serving to allow the flavors to develop.
Auguste Escoffier published a recipe for boeuf Bourguignon in 1903 that, over time, became the standard for the dish. It called for techniques like larding the meat that were necessary to assure tenderness then, but which now, given improvements in the quality of beef, are deemed unnecessary. Julia Child’s recipe, included here, is more modern and, in the United States at least, is considered a classic.
Following are some general tips for stewing beef:
- Don’t buy precut stew meat; it’s hard to tell what cut it is. For stew you want a tough cut with plenty of connective tissue that will melt during the slow cooking and give your stew great flavor. Chuck is the beef cut of choice.
- Flavor also comes from a good sear. Sear the beef chunks in batches so that they have plenty of room to brown; if the cubes are too close together in the pan, they will steam, and your stew will be dry. (Some recommend searing the meat whole, then cubing it to assure that it won’t steam rather than brown.) Scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot will further add to your stew’s deep, rich flavor.
- Limit thickeners like flour to avoid a gloppy consistency and dulled flavor. Stew doesn’t have to be thick, and if you’re using potatoes their starch with thicken the stew naturally.
- While many recipes advise stewing vegetables and meat together for hours to develop flavor, others caution against tossing everything into the pot at the same time. Vegetables added 45 minutes or so before the end of cooking will still have some bite and not become mushy. Tender herbs like tarragon, chives and parsley usually go in at the end. And it is possible to overcook beef stew – 2 to 3 hours is adequate for most beef stews; cook it longer and you run the risk that, not only will your vegetables be pap, but your juicy cubes of beef will disintegrate into stringy shreds.
- Skim the stew to remove fat or, if you’re making it in advance, refrigerate it and spoon off the fat after it has hardened in the cold temperature.