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Beef stew may not be the most elegant of meals, but it’s certainly one of the most satisfying. The combination of fork-tender chunks of meat, delicious vegetables, and a savory broth is the definition of comfort food. And if there’s one beef stew recipe to rule them all, it’s boeuf bourguignon, the classic French dish made famous in the U.S. by Julia Child.
To prepare a boeuf bourguignon, beef is braised in red wine and served with mushrooms and pearl onions. The dish seems simple, but the preparation is surprisingly complex, especially compared to other beef stew recipes that simply involve dumping the ingredients in a slow cooker and then going about your day. Yet the result of your extra effort is “layer upon layer upon layer of delicious flavor” and “a stew of surpassing richness and complexity,” The Kitchn explains.
Child introduced American cooks to the French version of beef stew in her 1961 book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. You can now find numerous variations on the dish online, some of which attempt to simplify some of the fussier steps in the original recipe. But it’s Child’s version that most people refer back to when they make this dish, so it’s the one we’ve decided to reproduce here. If it’s your first time tackling this dish, you’ll want to set aside an afternoon for prep, but once you taste the final product, you’ll be glad you took the time to do it right.
Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe
“Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, [boeuf bourguignon] is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man,” Child writes in her cookbook. You’ll likely agree after you try her recipe, which serves six.
To make your French-flavored beef stew, you’ll need a heavy-duty oven- and fire-proof casserole dish or Dutch oven.
- 6-ounce chunk of bacon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 sliced carrot
- 1 sliced onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups full-bodied, young red wine, such as Burgundy or Chianti
- 2 to 3 cups brown beef stock
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cloves mashed garlic
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 1 crumbled bay leaf
- Parsley, for garnish
For the onions
- 18 to 24 peeled pearl onions
- 1½ tablespoons butter
- 1½ tablespoons oil
- ½ cup beef stock, white wine, red wine, or water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, ½ bay leaf, and ¼ teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
For the mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 pound fresh button mushrooms, washed, dried, and quartered
Directions: Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons, or matchsticks ¼-inch thick and 1½ inches long. Simmer the rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1½ quarts of water. Drain and pat the bacon dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sauté the bacon in a Dutch oven or other oven-proof pot in olive oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish and with a slotted spoon. Set pan aside (do not discard the drippings).
Pat the beef dry with paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Return the pan to heat and warm until the fat is almost smoking. Sauté the meat, a few pieces at a time, until nicely browned on all sides. Add to the side dish with the bacon.
In the same pan, brown the sliced carrot and onion. Pour out the sauteing fat. Return the beef and bacon to the pan and toss with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in the middle position of pre-heated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove pan from oven and turn down heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stir in the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on the stove top. Then cover the pan and set in the lower third of the pre-heated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and the mushrooms.
To make the onions, warm the butter and the oil to a 9- or 10-inch enamel skillet. Once the fat is bubbling, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions around so they brown as evenly as possible but being careful not to break their skins.
Pour in the stock, wine, or water, season to taste with salt and pepper, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes, until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
To prepare the mushrooms, place a 10-inch enameled skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as the butter foam has started to subside, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. At first, the mushrooms will absorb the fat, but after 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear and the mushrooms will start to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat and set aside.
When the stew meat is tender, pour the contents of the pan into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the oven-proof pan and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
Skim the fat off the sauce in the saucepan. Simmer sauce for 1 or 2 minutes, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
Cover the pan and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in the pan, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice and decorated with parsley.
Choosing the right cut of beef is essential to a good stew. The best cuts for boeuf bourguignon have lots of collagen, which will help turn the meat tender as it cooks, according to Serious Eats. Child recommends rump roast as a first choice, or chuck roast, sirloin tip, top round, or bottom round. Bon Appétit suggests using chuck for all your beef stew recipes.
Child’s recipe calls for a 6-ounce chunk of bacon. Look for slab bacon — which is simple regular streaky bacon that hasn’t yet been sliced — at your butcher or in the meat department.
You can serve your finished stew dish with boiled potatoes, buttered noodles, or crusty French bread. Child suggests a side of buttered peas, but a simple green salad might be a better way to start the meal.