Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup
(Eat well, laugh often, love abundantly)
– French saying
Boeuf bourguignon was all the rage a couple of years ago in the blogging world, as if it was a dish newly invented, the next great challenge. These trends that seem to come and go in waves – the boeuf bourguignon and the coq au vin, the macarons, the bacon desserts – always make me wonder what creates this sudden desire that seems to consume so many all at once to make the same thing and eat the same thing all at the same time. The identical recipe, or a slight variation thereof, appears across thousands of blogs around the world over a rather short period of time, weeks or months, sometimes up to a year, and then disappears as suddenly, as inexplicably as it had arrived. And that recipe gets shuffled back to the archives of forgotten food.
Unless you live in a place where those recipes are simply daily fare.
Boeuf bourguignon has long been a classic of French home cooking originating, as the name implies, in the Bourgogne region of France known for both its beef and its wine. A dish both hardy and frugal, the boeuf bourguignon has long been the quintessential Sunday lunch. Using a cheaper cut of meat rendered tender through long, slow cooking, potatoes, carrots, onion and herbs from the family kitchen garden, simmered in red wine, not necessarily the best bottle, boeuf bourguignon has been one of those meat and potato meals that my husband and his mother and, without a doubt, his grandmother before him, turned to over and over again for a delicious yet simple and inexpensive meal. Beef stew, French style.
The classic home dishes that most French families traditionally grow up on are indeed frugal one-pot meals meant to nourish and fill tummies, taking little time for the housewife (working alongside her husband and taking care of the children) to prepare. Boeuf bourguignon, much like veal blanquette, poule au pot or pot au feu, is a rather simple meal to prepare, to the contrary of what many bloggers see as an extravagant, fancy dish, one slaved over for hours and served up in great pomp. This actually took me quite by surprise and still does today. I tag along behind my husband as he does the marketing, the morning leaning towards noon, and suddenly, husband will get that look on his face, one of sudden decision and determination, and he grabs my hand and drags me to the butcher counter, the root vegetable guy whose stall is groaning under the weight of potatoes, onions of every variety, shallots both brown and purple, garlic, beans and grains, and finally to the vegetable stand.
How about a boeuf bourguignon? he’ll ask (or a pot au feu or a rabbit en gibelotte).
Really? I’ll ask, stunned and wide eyed in wonder and amazement, my American convenience food upbringing written all over my face. My admiration for this man as he stands at the counter chopping vegetables and over the stove as he tosses everything into a pot, pours on wine and promptly leaves the kitchen, allowing whatever is in the pot to cook itself to perfection, is without bounds.
And by lunchtime or dinnertime it is ready.
A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.
- Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, 1825
This hardy, flavorful boeuf bourguignon needed to be accompanied by a rich, intense, full-bodied wine, much like the traditional Bourgogne, one that pairs so well with meats, game and stews, aged cheeses and mushrooms. I had recently received a selection of wines from the wonderful Allegrini Estates and my husband, the cook, and I decided to serve the 2008 Brunello di Montalcino with Boeuf Bourguignon. The Brunello di Montalcino is described as “intense and bright ruby red with garnet highlights….(revealing) typical aromas of violets and small red berries. There is a distinctive aroma of woodland undergrowth, aromatic wood and a light note of vanilla and preserved fruit, followed by subtle nuances of coffee.” The 2008 in particular is described as “silky, gracious and very nicely balanced with notes of tobacco, crushed flowers, spices which meld into red fruits.”
Personally, I found this wine much easier to drink, indeed silkier than its French counterpart, much smoother, fruitier with that spicy, peppery finish yet one that doesn’t make it go down with a bump. I am no wine expert and prefer lighter, fruitier wines than those of Bourgogne or Bordeaux which I find simply too strong and powerful, but the Brunello di Montalcino was surprisingly delicious, agreeable, smooth and so pleasurable to drink while offering a mouthful of flavors, a lingering aroma. It accompanied the boeuf bourguignon perfectly. The perfect marriage between something oh-so French and something spectacularly Italian.
This Brunello di Montalcino remaining in the bottle at the end of lunch or dinner pairs beautifully with artisan chocolates to round off the meal.
Thanks to the kind folks at Allegrini Estates/Allegrini USA. This is the first in a series of food and wine pairings I am doing with Allegrini and I heartily urge you to try their astonishing wines.
Wine makes a symphony of a good meal. -
Fernande Garvin, The Art of French Cooking, 1969
Serve 4 to 6 and makes excellent leftovers. Preparation time is close to 3 ½ to 4 hours which includes an hour resting time once the stew is cooked. This is a great dish to make the day before it is served then just gently reheated (or the morning for the evening).
About 1 lb 12 oz - 2 lbs (800 g - 1 kg) beef for stewing, cut into 8 – 10 large chunks
Olive oil or a mix of olive oil and margarine to sautée vegetables and brown meat
2 – 3 Tbs flour
2 small to medium onions, peeled and chopped coarsely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Carrots and potatoes and mushrooms – the number depends on how much you like and want to eat (this from the Frenchman!). On average, 2 – 3 carrots, 1 lb/500 g potatoes, 10 oz/300 g mushrooms, each cleaned, trimmed, peeled and cut into large chunks.
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay/laurel although you can add sauge and/or rosemary if desired)
1 bottle of intense wine such as a Burgundy or Bordeaux
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you like, marinate the chunks of beef in about a cup of wine or so overnight; this may make them more tender. Have the meat at room temperature before starting to cook.
Put about 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil or half olive oil and half margarine in a large heavy pot, one that will comfortably hold all of the meat and vegetables. When sizzling, add the chopped onions cook, stirring, until translucent and tender. Add the garlic and contnue cooking for another couple of minutes. Add the chunks of meat and brown on all sides.
Once the meat is browned (or colored), add the flour and toss until all of the meat is coated and the flour is absorbed; cook for a few more minutes. Add the bottle of wine until the meat is covered in liquid; top up with water if needed to cover the meat. Add the bouquet garni, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour.
While the meat is simmering, cook the potatoes in salted water until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain.
Add the carrots and the mushrooms cut into large chunks and the potatoes once the meat has simmered in the wine for 1 hour. Cover the pot again and continue cooking on a very low simmer for another 1 or until all of the vegetables are tender.
The cooking liquid should reduce into a rather thick sauce (ours could have been reduced a bit more), but watch towards the end – if it looks to be reducing too much and risks burning, don’t hesitate to add more liquid (water).
Turn off the pot, remove from the heat and allow to sit for an hour so the meat relaxes before serving. This is not necessary but recommended. Remove the bouquet garni before serving and discard.
Boeuf Bourguignon can also be cooked without the potatoes and served over cooked noodles or mashed potatoes or even polenta. Serve with a good, intense wine and a fresh loaf of bread.