I love the classic French Boeuf Bourguignon that Julia Child made famous in America, but with the six hours of prep/cooking time and the expensive bottle of wine it requires, it’s not exactly practical or budget-friendly for this home cook. My version here takes some shortcuts to get this flavorful, hearty, and elegant stew on the table in well under three hours, and I’ve also taken the liberty of substituting a smooth, dry Italian Tuscan wine (sacré bleu!) for the traditional (heavier) French Burgundy. It’s what I love to drink with a fancy dinner anyway, and there are plenty of great bottles for $15 or less. My favorite budget Tuscan is Nobile di Montepulciano, and it works beautifully here to create a stew fit for Tuscan nobles in their wintry villas. Buon Appetito!
Boeuf Bourguignon, Tuscan Villa Style
(Adapted from various versions of the French classic, including Julia Child’s, but most closely following techniques in Ina Garten’s version along with my own modifications)
Makes 4 Servings
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 slices extra-thick bacon, diced
- 1 lb. stew beef, cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
- fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- scant 1/4 cup flour
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 large carrots, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces (longer for the narrower tip, and for the thick end, chop in half too)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup cognac
- 1 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves (stems removed)
- 2 1/2 cups dry red wine (I use and love Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany) Note: this leaves at least one glass for the cook.
- 1 1/2 cups beef broth
- 4 Tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature, divided (2 + 2)
- 2 Tbs. flour for thickening
- 1 package button mushrooms — about 15 — (brown are best), rubbed clean with a damp, clean cloth, stems trimmed and cut in half (largest ones quartered)
- 5 small purple onions, cut in half vertically with most of base intact to keep layers together
- handful of fresh parsley leaves, stems removed, roughly chopped
- Pre-heat oven to 300 F/150 C and position the rack on the lower third so that the pot can fit roughly in the center of the oven.
- Pat the beef on all sides with paper towels until completely dry — this is the most important step for good browning of the meat. Then season lightly with salt & pepper. In a large bowl, combine the seasoned beef cubes with scant 1/4 cup of flour and mix well until all sides of the beef are coated and there is no spare flour in the bowl.
- In a Dutch oven or other oven-safe and heavy-bottomed pot (with lid for later use), warm the olive oil on medium heat and brown the diced bacon. Scoop out the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside in a large bowl.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high, and when the oil is hot, add the beef cubes in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the beef cubes or move them around too quickly, so that they have space and time to sear properly. Brown all sides, 2-3 minutes per side, and when done transfer to the bowl with the cooked bacon. Continue with subsequent batches to brown the beef and transfer cooked pieces to the bowl.
- Turn heat back down to medium, and if necessary add more olive oil and wait until it gets hot. Add diced onion and work with a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape off any browned bits on the bottom of the pan and incorporate these flavors into the onion. When onion begins to get translucent — after a good 8 minutes or so, add the sliced carrots and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 1 minute.
- Add the cognac to the pot and turn up the heat and let it cook down. When it has almost completely evaporated, push the vegetable mixture to the sides and make a well in the center of the pot. Add the tomato paste and let it caramelize there for a couple minutes, stirring the tomato paste part only to ensure it doesn’t burn. Sprinkle the thyme leaves on top of the vegetables on the sides and let sit as you tend to the tomato paste.
- Add the beef and bacon back to the pot, then add the wine and broth and check the liquid level — it should almost cover the meat and vegetable pieces. Add more wine/broth to reach that level if necessary. Bring to a boil, then cover with a tight fitting lid and transfer to the oven, in the center.
- Let the stew cook for roughly 1 hour 30 minutes, checking every 20-30 minutes, giving it a good gentle stir to ensure that nothing is stuck to the bottom and it cooks evenly.
- When beef is spoon-tender, transfer the pot back to the stovetop. Combine 2 Tbs. butter at room temperature and 2 Tbs. flour in a sturdy bowl with a fork until well incorporated. Add a ladleful or two of the sauce from the pot to make a thick slurry in the bowl and add back to the pot and mix well. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer to thicken the stew, about 5 minutes, then turn heat to low.
- Meanwhile, add the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter to a separate saute pan and heat over medium-high heat to cook the onions and mushrooms. First add the onions cut side down, sprinkle with a little salt, and lightly brown all sides; this will take about 10 minutes (try to keep the onion pieces together with the bases intact). Slide them over to one side of the pan and add the mushrooms, cut side down, and brown quickly on all sides, about 5 minutes. Onions should be browned and softened slightly through to their center layers (they will soften up some more in the stew, but shouldn’t have much of a bite here), and mushrooms browned, not too soft.
- Add the onions and mushrooms to the stew, cover, and cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until onions are softened and flavors have mingled. Taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper if necessary.
- Serve with crusty bread or mashed potatoes and a generous sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.
Note: This stew can be made up to two days ahead (refrigerated in an airtight container and reheated) and is actually tastier the next day after making, when all the flavors have melded.