Sunday, 5 September 2010

Boeuf Bourguinonne and me

If this gosh-darned crazy old world meant anything, my middle name would be Beef Stewed With Red Wine. But it’s not. Dang!

I love big, beefy, wine-flavoured stews and braises. Our cold winter this year has meant ideal times for warming meals, gluhwein, nestling, candles, and general Gemütlichkeit. Recently, Delly and Bells wrote about boeuf Bourguinonne, inspiring me to revisit this classic dish. Winey beef stews have been my default setting for as long as I have cooked, and Burgundian beef stew is one of the best. BB is not the first beef – wine stew I ever cooked. That was its Greek country cousin, stifado — from Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food. But I love all of them.

So I pulled out my bible — Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, and re-read her recipe. As usual, she adds lots of cultural and personal context. And, as usual, I followed the spirit, rather than the strict letter of the formula.

I always use chuck, shin, or other cheaper, tougher cut for these dishes. I think they have great flavour, and I’ve never been able to bring myself to use expensive rump in such a dish. Chuck, and especially shin, have a lot of fine connective tissue in the meat, which breaks down over slow, gentle cooking to give richness and body to the sauce I almost always flame the casserole after deglazing, with a splash of brandy. And, beside, flaming the brandy pleases the little boy in all of us! But I more or less followed her method.

With my basic cooking set up, fine temperature control is hard, so I tended to hover and peek more than normal. You don’t want this pot to boil, but just simmer very gently. It takes hours, so do this on a wet Saturday arvo while you read the paper or watch Elvis movies. You can also cook it in a slow oven. After a while, the flat had a wonderful beef stew smell. When the meat was tender the sauce was a bit thin, so I drained it off and reduce it hard for a while to a thicker consistency.

As usual, it was rich and very satisfying. The speck and mushrooms add great depth of flavour. For a bit of fun I garnished it with heart-shaped croutons, which is a classic French bistro touch. And lots of mash to soak up the sauce.

And I’ll be back again, as I am a few times each winter, to revisit this great recipe.


  1. I must revisit this recipe too David. I'll try the Elizabeth one this time. I love your pic of all your ingredients. beautiful. Nothing could be better on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

    Again you have written so well. Love the heart shaped croutons - what a good idea. Mmm... Bring on next Winter.

  2. flaming the pot with brandy sounds so satisfying! I'm going to try that.

  3. Yeah - v. satisfying! Don't worry when it all goes whooshka - the flames die down quickly, but are exciting, and startling first time you do this. But keep the pot lid handy to quell the flames in the pot when nearby curtains, extended sleeves, or other foreign objects catch fire ...