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Boeuf Bourguignon – My First ‘French’ Dish:
As a teenager I used to spend a month every summer staying with a French family. The intention of course, was for me to improve my French. The reality was that I spoke very little French (although to this day I can follow a conversation without too much problem). But, I did learn about food, French style. I’ve already talked about my mother’s dislike of cooking. Here’s the other side of the story. The French family I stayed with were from Troyes, near Paris. But they spent the summer in Savoie, in a tiny village near Chambery where Mme Le Rudulier’s parents still lived. And, our daily routine started with a cycle ride down the hill to the local boulangerie to buy brioche for breakfast. It came filled with a cherry confiture and we ate handfuls with large bowls of steaming coffee. And fresh peach juice made from the peaches that grew outside the door.
Next we drove to local farms, to the market and returned home with provisions. We ate a light lunch. Sometimes leftovers from the night before, sometimes cold meats and salad. And then went off to swim or occasionally to have tea in Chambery while Grand-mere prepared the evening meal. In all honesty I don’t remember eating Boeuf Bourguignon. But I did go home and buy Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking (my copy is the 1970 edition!). And I think it was those weeks in the French Alps that gave me a love of food.
I have made Elizabeth’s recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon before now, it calls for salt pork or bacon and beef or veal stock. But, my own, hybrid version has evolved over the years. I add in a few vegetables to add depth of flavour rather than beef or veal stock. I generally leave out the bacon unless I’m making the dish for a dinner party. And, I don’t marinade the meat. It should really be made with a Burgundy wine or at the very least a Pinot Noir, but I didn’t have any in the house. So, I used the remains of a Cabernet Sauvignon in the cooking and opened a rather nice bottle of Merlot from Foncalieu, which I’d been sent to review, to drink with the meal. It is a rich fruity wine with slight tobacco notes and works well with all meat dishes. But, I’m quite glad I saved it to drink with a special meal!
- 500 g Stewing Beef Cut into largish chunks. About 2 inches square
- 2 Medium Onions Peeled and finely sliced
- 1 Medium Carrot Peeled and finely diced
- 1 stick Celery Cleaned and sliced
- 300 g Button Mushroom
- 300 g Shallots
- 50 g Butter
- 1 tablespoon Olive oil
- 350 ml Red Wine
- Salt and Pepper to Season
- 1 Bouquet Garni I use a handful of rosemary, bay and thyme
- 2 cloves Garlic Crushed or finely chopped
- Heat about two thirds of the butter and oil in a heavy based pan that can be put into the oven. Pre heat the oven to 160c
- Soften the onions for 5 to 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, carrot and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove the softened vegetables from the pan and set to one side
- Raise the heat and brown the meat in batches
- Return the vegetables to the pan and add in the wine and bouquet garni
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, put the lid on and place in the oven.
- Cook for 3-4 hours, checking very occasionally stirring and adding a little water if necessary.
- Half an hour before you want to eat, heat a little more butter and oil in a frying pan. Brown the shallots, then the button mushrooms, before adding both to the casserole and continuing to cook in the oven.
- To serve, check and season with salt and pepper to taste and remove the bouquet garni
This Boeuf Bourguignon IS a recipe that seems to work no matter what you do with it.
It is best made the day before you want to eat it and then reheated gently (you can add the shallots and button mushrooms at this stage). It also freezes really well and will work with cheaper cuts of meat, just make sure you cook it for longer if necessary. And, the version I made with the Scotch Beef I was given recently was utterly delicious.