Sometime last week, at the height of my flu/cold/plague, I bought a couple of bottles from the little corner shop on my street. The more expensive one, a 1998 bordeaux at 6€, turned out to be corked. Even without the use of my olfactory senses, I could tell that this wine was totally undrinkable. So I put it aside and lurched back downstairs the next day and asked to replace the bottle. The shop owner insisted that I had just picked a “bad quality” wine, and told me to pick another bottle of similar value. So I did, and that bottle was corked, too. I was too sick and tired to go back down and fight him over it, so I left the bottle in the fridge overnight with a ball of plastic wrap (this is a trick for removing the “corked” taste that sometimes works) and waited for it to mellow out. It was still undrinkable the day after, but it was probably usable for boeuf bourguignon, so I left it in the fridge and waited for a good day to make that most famous French stew.
Tonight, on the way home, I decided to finally make the boeuf bourguignon. It was a relatively simple affair. I stopped at a grocery store and bought a pot au feu (“stew”) packet, which comes with a lot of leeks, a lot of carrots, and a bit of celery, one onion, and one turnip. Personally, I would’ve used more onion, but I couldn’t complain with the convenient packaging. I also picked up a pack of stewing beef, which here is helpfully labeled “bourguignon,” because what other thing would you make with cheap beef? At least, that’s what I assumed the French packagers were thinking when they decided to label it so. I also bought some candy, but that’s neither here nor there. Moving along…
So I stopped to get some bread at my bakery, and then it was time to make the bourguignon. I’ve written about the recipe here before, but I realize now that I never gave an actual recipe, so here it is. There are many, many possible versions of this, and this is the simplest version I’ve done so far, and it turned out EXCELLENT.
- 500 g. of stewing beef (approximately), but in large chunks (note, the more chewy connective tissue the better; it’ll all dissolve into the sauce)
- 1 onion (or maybe more)
- 6 medium-sized carrots
- 4 leeks (whites and a bit of the green)
- 1 large turnip
- 1 stick of celery
- 1-2 bay leaves
- several sprigs of fresh thyme
- rosemary (optional; I just had it kicking around)
- 4-5 cloves of garlic
- a bottle of wine
- some water and/or stock
- olive oil
- a few tablespoons of flour
- Prepare all your vegetables first. The leeks always have grit between the layers, so start by cutting them length-wise, and then crosswise into half-moons about 1cm long. Put them in a large bowl with a lot of water and separate the layers of leeks with your fingers, leaving them to float to the top and release their grit.
- Dice the onion and celery, and place to one side. Peel and dice the turnip and place with the onion.
- Peel and dice about 2 carrots and place with the onion and turnip, but also peel the rest of them and cut them into relatively large rounds.
- Peel and mince the garlic as finely as possible. Put to one side.
- Finally, get a large stock-pot or dutch oven and place it over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot to a depth of a few millimeters.
- One the oil is good and hot, CAREFULLY place the pieces of meat into the pot with a pair of tongs, taking care to leave a bit of space between them for proper cooking.
- WAIT. The meat will probably stick to the bottom of the pan and that’s what you want. You need to wait for the meat to caramelize to the bottom of the pan and develop a crust, so give it at least 2 minutes. Then, test by giving the meat a gentle pull with your tongs. When they pop off the bottom of the pan with a bit of gentle pulling, turn them over and fry the other sides of the meat. It’s Ok if a few bits of the browned meat stay stuck on the pan for now.
- Once all of the meat has been browned, remove the pieces from the pot and place them in a large bowl (a bowl is better than a flat dish, because the meat is going to leak a lot of molten fat and blood while you’re working on the next few steps).
- Toss in the onions, celery, turnip, and the diced carrots (but not the sliced carrots) into the pot and dust lightly with salt. Mix to coat and then cover a leave over low heat for a few minutes.
- When the leeks and onions are translucent and beginning to get soft, add the garlic and the rest of the carrots, mix, and leave to sweat a couple of minutes longer.
- Dust the contents of the pot with a layer of flour and quickly mix. Keep mixing as the flour cooks into the oil and begins to thicken everything. When you see the flour-oil mixture beginning to really stick to the bottom of the pan, it’s time to deglaze.
- Pour just a splash of wine and quickly mix. Once that’s absorbed, pour in a bit more and mix again (this method helps to avoid lumps in the sauce). After that, pour the rest of the bottle in, along with about 1 liter of water or stock.
- Add about a teaspoon of salt (you can always add more later) and 4 crushed black peppercorns (or half a teaspoon of ground pepper).
- Place the meat back into the mixture. If you have some potatoes kicking around the kitchen, you can wash them and throw them in here, as well.
- Place over high heat until the liquid starts to boil. At that point, reduce to a simmer and cover.
- Leave to simmer for at least 3 hours, preferably 4.
- When the meat comes apart easily and the connective tissue has become soft, remove meat from mixture, along with the potatoes and any other bits of vegetables that are large enough to pick up with the tongs (don’t sweat the smaller veggies).
- Place the remaining sauce over high heat and stir frequently, until the sauce has reduced by about half its volume and it’s thick enough to cover the back of a wooden spoon.
- Return the meat to the pan, stir until coated, and then turn off the heat and leave covered for a few minutes. When the stew is cool enough to eat, serve and dig in.