You’re strolling a back street in Paris when you pass the open door of a bistro and see a waiter walk by carrying a carrying a crock of stew that smells divine. Sight unseen, you grab a table and order your own. You immediately dig in as your order arrives. Each bite is filled with generous amounts of falling-apart and tender beef, mushrooms, potatoes, and a rich, decadent broth.
You’ve just discovered boeuf bourguignon (or Burgundy beef in English). The dish that was the focus of Julia Child’s first television episode of The French Chef, and is a staple of French bistro cuisine. When done right, it has an elevated flavor that blends each ingredient perfectly and showcases exactly why boeuf bourguignon receives so much deserved attention.
What is Boeuf Bourguignon?
Boeuf bourguignon is a beef stew that gets a lot of flavor from the Burgundy wine that gives the dish its name. Ironically, the first evidence of the dish being served in a restaurant isn’t in the Burgundy region of France, but rather the bistros of Paris. Although the dish doesn’t originate in Burgundy, due to the dish’s popularity, it’s commonly found there today. Instead, the name is more about how it’s inspired by Burgundy and evokes the flavors popular in that region. Burgundy wine is an essential ingredient, but the use of beef (which southern Burgundy is famous for) draws from the region, too.
While the dish was popular in France after its recent revitalization, it may not always have enjoyed the sparkling reputation it does today. This may have been because the meat used in the stew was leftovers used by restaurants to save money and was tough and stringy as it stewed. This changed in the 20th century when fresh meat started being used. Over the years, many chefs would leave their mark on boeuf bourguignon, including the legendary Paul Bocuse and Julia Child, making it the world-famous stew we know and love today.
The Elements of a Great Stew
Boeuf bourguignon is a very flexible dish; feel free to adapt the dish to your own preferences and style. Some prefer a more brothy stew, while others make it so thick, it becomes a sauce for the beef. Some add bacon, or lardons, for flavor and others choose to go without. Some people prefer to brown the vegetables to caramelize them before stewing them, others leave them out of the stew until closer to the end to avoid losing their natural flavors. Boeuf bourguignon’s classic origins are an invitation to the cook to be inventive and tweak the recipe to fit your tastes.
The Size of the Meat
What sets boeuf bourguignon apart from other beef stews is the size of the meat. While many beef stews cut their beef into bite-sized portions, boeuf bourguignon uses larger pieces. These cuts can range anywhere from 1 ½ inches to three inches. This almost makes the dish a steak served with a sauce, only it’s falling apart and tender, with a cohesive flavor throughout the dish.
The Cut of Boeuf
The cut of beef is also very important. It’s important that whatever cut you use has good marbling throughout the beef. Marbling is fat found within the muscles and keeps the meat moist. You’ll want to avoid more tender, leaner cuts of meat like sirloin or filet mignon. These won’t hold up well to the stewing process, becoming chewy and dry with the long cooking. Instead, aim for pieces that start tougher, generally the strongest muscles in the cow’s body. Think shoulders or legs. Both cuts work well and are usually easy to find. Each chef has their own preference (Paul Bocuse reportedly used flank steak while his mentor, Eugénie Brazier, preferred chuck).
The Wine You Choose
The final main ingredient is, of course, the Burgundy wine. Much like with coq au vin, you’ll want to choose a wine that you like the taste of, but don’t worry about spending too much. When you cook the wine, you won’t know the difference between a high-end, expensive bottle and solid, but less expensive bottle, since the intricate differences, more than likely, will be cooked out. You will notice the difference between a solid bottle and bad one, though, or even worse, “cooking wine,” which often has added ingredients like salt, sweeteners, and preservatives.
Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe
- 3 lbs of chuck roast, cut into 2- to 2 1/2-inch cubes
- ¼ cup of lardons (roughly 4 slices of thick cut bacon sliced into small cubes)
- 2 cups of cremini or white mushrooms, sliced
- 6 large carrots, chopped into ½-inch pieces
- 4 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced in quarters
- 2-3 onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp of garlic, chopped
- 4 cups of Burgundy red wine (plus 1 optional cup)
- 1 cup of water
- 1-2 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup of beef stock
- 1 tbsp of tomato paste
- 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour
- 1-2 tbsp of olive oil (enough to cover your Dutch oven)
- 2 tbsp of butter
- 1 bouquet garni (2 stalks of fresh parsley, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, and 3 fresh bay leaves)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cornstarch for thickening (optional)
- The night before, season your beef with salt and pepper. (Optionally, you can marinade the meat overnight. If you do, add an additional cup of red wine.)
- Remove your beef from the fridge (and optional marinade) 30 minutes before cooking. Pat dry with a paper towel.
- Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat and sear each side of the cuts of beef until browned on the outside.
- Remove the beef from the Dutch oven, lower the heat to medium, and add the lardons.
- Cook the lardons until the fat is rendered and they are lightly crisped. Remove them from the Dutch oven and set them aside on a plate.
- Add the butter, scraping up the browned fond1 as the butter melts.
- Add the onions, stirring to coat in butter, and lightly seasoning with salt to help soften them.
- Caramelize the onions for at least 10 minutes, until they’re lightly browned and softened. Add more butter if you need to.
- Once everything is softened, add garlic and cook until it’s fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Sprinkle flour over everything and stir until everything is thoroughly coated. If you added extra butter, you may need a little more flour.
- Slowly add the beef stock, whisking until it’s thoroughly combined.
- Bring it to a light boil, lower the heat to low, and allow the stock to reduce by half.
- Stir in the tomato paste until it’s thoroughly and smoothly combined.
- Slowly pour in the wine and one cup of water, stirring as you do to combine everything.
- Bring the pot back to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and bring the wine to a gentle simmer and allow it to simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes to an hour, until it’s reduced by a quarter.
- Add the meat and any juices that accumulated while it rested, the carrots, mushrooms, the Worcestershire sauce, and the bouquet garni. If the liquid isn’t above the meat and vegetables, add water until covered.
- Return the stew to a boil and once again, lower it to medium heat and allow to gently simmer uncovered for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is tender and the stew is the desired thickness. Every 15 minutes, check the stew, stirring to scrape up any fond that develops and prevent scorching on the bottom of the Dutch oven.
- When there is about 45 minutes remaining, add in the halved potatoes and the reserved lardons.
- When you’re ready to serve, if the stew isn’t quite to the thickness you desire, make a slurry of equal parts cornstarch and some of the stew liquid. (Start with 1 tablespoon of each and add more if it’s still not the consistency you want.)
- Serve in bowls, dividing potatoes, carrots, and beef equally — enjoy!
1A fancy word for browned caramelized bits of protein and fat left behind when you cook meat or vegetables. It’s the foundation of flavor.