There are many gastronomic paradises in France, but there is a paradise of paradises — Burgundy. – Curnonsky
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne is perhaps Burgundy’s most iconic dish; a rich beef stew made infamous in America by Julia Child, prepared from marinated beef simmered in local red wine with a calves foot, pearl onions, bacon lardons, herbs and button mushrooms. In truth, cooking proteins this way seems much more a regional style than a one off creation, you will find this combination of flavors taking many forms, from the equally iconic Coq au Vin (chicken in wine) to lesser known dishes like Oeufs en Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon, mushrooms and onions) and Pochouse Bourguignonne, a rustic fish stew made with an assortment of river fish and crayfish simmered in Chambertin with onions, bacon and mushrooms. Technically, meurette is the name for highly flavored red wine sauces from Burgundy, though the word is seldom used in that connotation today.
Beef Bourguignon undoubtedly started life as a humble, peasant dish used to cook tougher pieces of beef, long before becoming a seriously tasty way to eat braised beef at regional restaurants and tables around the world. I have seen a few websites claiming the first appearance is in an Escoffier book, but I would argue the recipe is timeless and was been published several times prior without the word ‘bourguignonne’ added to the title. Most of the older French recipes mention larding the beef and adding a calves foot to the pot to provide a certain unctuousness. Larding, or inserting strips of pork fat into cubes of beef, is the proper way to take tough cooks of beef and make them tender. I certainly would advise adding a calf’s foot if you can find one; try looking in ethnic Asian or Mexican markets where they have a better selection of animal parts than typical mainstream grocery stores.
Not everyone can afford filet of beef. In any case, I pity those who eat it every day. The meat is rather flabby and the flavor not outstanding. – Edouard de Pomiane on cheaper cuts of beef.
But why did Boeuf a la Bourguignonne end up being made here? Food in France is generally about regionality; dishes become classics and mainstays, more because of geography and adapting to one’s micro climate than perhaps any other reason. Burgundy is widely known throughout France (and the world) for its excellent Charollais beef, which have been raised there since 800 AD, chickens from Bresse, freshwater fish from the rivers, the fertile lands for growing vegetables around Lyon and their outstanding wines. It truly is the confluence where Haute Cuisine meets honest bourgeois cuisine head on.
The Charollais cows are brought to the slaughterhouse after six years, one year longer than most beef cattle. This extra year lends more flavor to the meat, but risks making the meat tougher. Nearby Lyon is known both for her onions and pork products that end up in various guises on the table combined with Burgundy’s biggest contribution to the table, wine, so this dish is a natural.
Pork, goose, squirrel, and squid are good when subjected to this treatment (braising bourguignonne style). Muskrat (discreetly labeled ‘marsh rabbit’) is commonplace in Baltimore markets and, despite the merchants’ claim that the only possible preparation is first to boil it ‘to get rid of its taste,’ and then to ‘fry it like chicken,’ it is delicious when treated a la bourguignonne. – Richard Olney, The French Menu Cookbook
I am sharing three recipes for Beef Bourguignon, one from legend Paul Bocuse, one from his mentor Mere Brazier and a simple version I got while having a spirited conversation with a butcher in Burgundy last year while on a culinary adventure. Whatever method you choose, try making this classic this weekend. It is the perfect dish for late winter and the coming of spring.
Beef Bourguignon, recipe from the Butcher
Beef Bourguignon is perhaps Burgundy's most iconic dish; a rich beef stew made infamous in America by Julia Child, prepared from marinated beef simmered in local wine with a calves foot, onions, bacon lardons, herbs and mushrooms.
- 2 pounds beef shoulder cut into 2 inch large pieces - see notes
- 1 each calves foot split
- 1 bottle red Burgundy wine, or low alcohol pinot noir
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 tablespoon pork fat, or duck fat
- 1/4 pound slab bacon cut into large dice
- 16 each pearl onions or shallots
- 1/2 pound button mushrooms, I used cultivated 'horse mushrooms'
- 2 stalks celery finely diced
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 head garlic, but I like
- parsley for garnishing
Put beef into a glass bowl and cover with wine, bay leaf and thyme. Let marinate a minimum of six hours, but preferably overnight.
Heat pork fat in large pot, add bacon, and cook till lightly browned.. I generally would advise staying away from strongly smoked bacon as it imparts too smokey a flavor for a dish as subtle as this. The French would blanch the bacon first in boiling water.
Drop your peeled pearl onions into the pork fat, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove and reserve with bacon. Do not worry about fully cooking as they will simmer in the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Saute button mushrooms in fat for a few minutes, then add to bacon and onions.
Remove beef and calves foot from marinade, saving marinade, and pat dry. Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper and saute in pan.
When the meat is browned, add celery and carrots and continue sauteeing for five minutes.
Sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour and stir into vegetables.
Add reserved marinade, stock and garlic and simmer for two hours. The idea is to cook the beef about 2/3 of the way. If you need to add liquid as you cook you can add water or even beef stock.
Remove the beef and calves foot, dicing the meat and cartilage and throwing the bones away.
Strain the sauce, discarding the carrots and celery and garlic. At home when cooking for family I would be apt to leave the vegetables in, but certainly would remove if serving guests.
Remove any fat floating at the top, then return the sauce, beef and diced calves foot to the pot, and continue cooking for another hour, or until the beef is done. I usually add the mushrooms, bacon and onions at this point too because I do not want to be bothered trying to guess exactly when the meat will be done.
Beef a la Bourguignonne is better the next day or even four days later like any other stew on the face of the planet. It really needs time to mature and have the flavors marry together. When you are ready to serve, ladle out hearty portions and serve with a starchy side like fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, macaroni gratin, pasta and evn risotto. Sprinkle with parsley and for god's sake, drink a great Burgundy with this.
What cut of beef to use? Avoid what most stores call stew beef, it usually is devoid of fat and cartilage, two things necessary for stewing. I generally use meat from the shoulder or oxtails, short ribs or shanks.
Paul Bocuse's Beef Bourguignon
- 3 pounds flank steak, or rumpsteak cut in 2 inch chunkc
- 1/3 pound fresh pork fat with skin removed
- 1/2 cup cognac
- 3/4 cup Burgundy wine
- 1 calf's foot
- 7 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 quart stock
- 1 bouquet garni
- 1 pound mushrooms
- 1/2 pound slab lean bacon cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 24 each small onions peeled
This dish will take approximately 5 hours to cook, prepare yourself for the assault of delish scents that will tempt you. Insert slivers of pork fat into the cubes of meat, and place in a marinade of cognac and wine for three hours.
Have your butcher bone the calves foot; retain bones. Plunge into boiling water for ten minutes, rinse and tie in a cheesecloth. Break the bones into tiny pieces and plunge pork skin into boiling water and rinse.
Drain the meat, wipe dry, and brown in 4 tablespoons butter.
When the meat is well browned, remove and set aside on a plate; add flour and brown mixture slowly, stirring constantly.
Dilute with the marinade and the stock. Bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk, and place the meat into the sauce, which should just cover the meat.
Add bouquet garni, calves foot, the bones, the pork rind, and the stems of the mushrooms, well cleaned. Cover and braise very slowly in a 325 degree oven for 4 hours.
Plunge the bacon slices in boiling water for five minutes, drain, and wipe dry. Brown in a frying pan with the remaining butter; remove to a plate, and in the same pan with the butter, brown the onions.
After 4 hours, remove the beef and the calf's foot; then strain the sauce through a fine sieve.
Dice the calf's foot thickly and return to pan with the beef; add the bacon, the onions, the mushroom caps, quartered, and the strained sauce.
Bring slowly to a boil, and continue cooking in the oven covered, very slowly - at a simmer - for one hour.
At the end of this time the sauce should be reduced to 3 cups. If more remains, boil the sauce until it is reduced to this point.
To serve, arrange the meat on a platter, surround with the garnishes and pour the sauce over.
Paul Bocuse's recipe is a bit more technical and may require an additional bottle of wine to drink while googling phrases like bouquet garni, if you are unfamiliar. Try this one, it is an incredible version and surely will make you look like a three star chef. Please buy his cookbooks and visit his restaurants all over the world.
- 1 pound beef chuck
- 1 lard or oil
- 6 small onions
- 1 spoon flour
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1 spoon tomato puree
- bouquet garni
- streaky bacon
- 1 pound beef chuck 2 inch large dice
Choose meat that is not too lean. Cut into large cubes and brown in lard in a pan on high heat.
Add small onions, brown them
Add flour, let cook a minute.
Add garlic and cover with red wine. Add tomato puree, bouquet garni, and some diced, sweated, streaky bacon cut into small lardons; salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about two hours.
Add raw mushrooms and cook another 15 minutes.
Serve hot, scattered with chopped parsley.
Serve with a puree of potatoes or fresh noodles.
Do you want to eat Beef Bourguignon where it comes from? Join us in Burgundy and Lyon this June!