About Slow Cooking
and the Boeuf Bourgignon
My first attempt to make Boeuf Bourgignon was of course prompted by watching ‘Julie and Julia’ a few years back and it was a fiasco. I remember I was very pregnant at the time and since I did not have a dutch oven, I set out to buy one. And bought I did, after waiting the longest 10 minutes of my life in line to pay for it, all the while holding it in my hands, all 7 kilos of it, as I had blatantly omitted to get a shopping cart. Pot secured, I returned home and started cooking, or should I say toiling. I remember it taking around 4 hours of prepping and then oven time. The end result was inversely proportional to the amount of time, work and quality of the ingredients used; it was a flop. The meat was dry, a bit burnt, there was no flavour and no dinner, for that matter.
I haven’t made it since. But this week, with the chill of the Autumn settling in, I decided to give it another go. And I took to it differently. This time I knew what I was up against. Boeuf Bourgignon is one of those dishes that requires patience, time, good red wine (to put in the pan and to enjoy while cooking as well) and a good dutch oven, you know, those glorious cast iron pot things. I had all of the above mentioned, minus the really good dutch oven. I have the moderately mediocre one, which means you need to constantly check and add juices to the pot while in the oven, to prevent from drying. If you are lucky enough to have a good one, then you need not worry for this.
So, this time was different. I started early with searing the meat, then I went on to cook the vegetables and then I united everything under the magic spell of red wine and shoved the pot in the oven for a good 3 hours on a very low heat, the same heat I normally use to make meringue. And considering how mediocre my pot is, it turned out stellar. I served it as one should, with pasta and crusty baguette slices. I did put a salad on the table for a healthier choice. You could also do mash potatoes, that would work nice, I think, with all the juices from the meat, vegetables and wine.
This dish is earthy, hearty, filling, comforting, but not the prettiest looking thing to put on the table, nor is it easy to make. While it’s not really all that hard to make, as far as the cooking steps go, it does take quite some time. It’s very important for this dish to use good wine, but then again I believe this goes for all dishes: if you wouldn’t drink it, why cook with it? If you decide to make this and I hope you do, put some music on, centre yourself, breathe and go with it. Allow for the slow paced process to envelop you and enjoy; you could even meditate as you cook, it’s one of the best recipes for that.
250g/9 oz bacon, cubed
1.5 kg/3 pounds beef round roast
600ml/3 cups good red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon, the trick is to use whatever red wine you like to drink)
2-3 Tblsp duck fat or vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
30gr/2 Tbslp tomato paste
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
500ml/2 cups chicken stock
500g/1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper
Serve with: cooked tagliatelle (any other pasta will do) and crusty baguette bread
Warm your cast iron pot on the hob over medium heat. Add the bacon and allow for it to render fat. Once cooked, remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towels. Once the fat is sizzling and smoky, pat the beef cubes dry with a paper towel and place in the pot, in one single layer. Sear the meat by not moving the cubes for 1-3 minutes, until golden-brown. Flip on the other side and sear again for 1-3 minutes. Transfer the seared beef cubes to a large bowl. Deglaze the pot by pouring 60ml/1/4 cup wine in and scraping the bottom very well with a wooden spoon. Pour all of the juices in the bowl with the seared meat. Put the pot on the hob again, add 1 Tblsp duck fat or oil, allow to sizzle. Add dried beef cubes again and sear just as before. Once seared on both sides, transfer to the bowl, deglaze the pot with another 60ml/1/4 cup wine and then pour over the seared meat. Continue like this until you finish the meat.
Once you have finished searing the meat and deglazing, add another Tblsp of duck fat/oil and once hot, add the chopped onion, a pinch of salt and cook it, until sweaty for about 4-5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery stalks and cook until they soften. Add tomato paste and garlic and cook for another minute or two.
Preheat your oven to 150C/300F. Put the meat and all the juices over the vegetables in the pot, mix everything together slowly. Add thyme and bay leaf, pour remaining wine and chicken stock over, cover with the lid and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours before checking it. The dish is done when the meat falls apart easily with a fork. It took 3 hours in my oven. While the pot is in the oven, heat 1 Tblsp vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once sizzling, place the mushrooms in the skillet, add a pinch of salt and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until golden brown. Once the meat is cooked, add the mushrooms and the reserved bacon and cook in the oven for another 10 minutes. Serve immediately in soup dishes with the crusty bread and the cooked pasta.