In the age of Instant Pot everything, it’s easy to overlook time-consuming classics like beef bourguignon. This, however, is a mistake.
It’s the type of dish you pull out your Le Creuset for, and the kind that requires separate trips to the butcher, farmers’ market, and wine store. One does not casually work beef bourguignon into their schedule; no, this is the sort of cooking weekends are planned around. And boy, is it worth it.
Also known as beef Burgundy, bœuf bourguignon, and bœuf à la Bourguignonne, this dish may strike many modern cooks as intimidatingly French, but it is more at home at a family dinner table than fine dining restaurants.
Anthony Bourdain calls it the perfect party dish. “You cook it before your guests arrive (it only gets better sitting around), you bring it up to heat, and if you’re detained in the dining room having a few extra cocktails, no big thing,” he says in a 2010 episode of “No Reservations.”
To make beef bourguignon at home, you soak a relatively inexpensive cut of beef, the shoulder, in red wine, and then sear and simmer it with carrots, onions, celery, and herbs. There is an admittedly fussy-seeming step that requires a second pan (oh la la!) to sauté your beef with pancetta, mushrooms, and pearl onions while the sauce reduces to a spoon-coating demi-glace. All in all, though, it is a fairly painless process.
The classic dish dates back to at least 1903, when Auguste Escoffier, the French chef hailed as the founder of modern cuisine, published the first known written recipe. Julia Child introduced American home cooks to beef bourguignon with her 1961 culinary opus, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” In it, she describes the stew as “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.”
“Fuller-bodied varietals like Cabernet or Merlot would mask the taste of the meat, whereas a lighter, moderately tannic wine will enhance its taste,” Laëtitia Rouabah, executive chef at New York city French bistro Benoit, tells VinePair.
Harold Moore, co-owner of New York’s Bistro Pierre Lapin agrees. “You can’t make this dish with inferior quality wine, because when you reduce everything and concentrate those flavors, whatever’s prevalent in the wine will really stand out in the sauce,” he says.
Not only is Burgundy the best wine for cooking this dish, it also makes the perfect pairing, Moore says. He recommends bottles with eight to 10 years of age, and says the wine should be slightly more acidic than the sauce because it helps “pick up the nuance of both the dish and the wine.”
Whether you serve your beef bourguignon with creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, or even just a slice of stale bread, this is luxurious cooking. It just happens to hail from an era when haute cuisine didn’t require tweezers and pipettes.
“It’s not about how expensive it is, it’s about using the best quality available,” Moore says of the ingredients in this dish. Your time is precious, but your grocery bills don’t have to be.
(Inspired by Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain, and Auguste Escoffier)
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 ounces pancetta, unsmoked, cut into ¼-inch by 1-inch batons (these are called lardons)
- 3 pounds of beef shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 pound of carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 pound of celery, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 bottle Burgundy red wine
- 2 cups quality beef stock
- 1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, and parsley, tied together with string)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 pounds cremini mushrooms, cut in half
- 1 pound pearl onions, peeled
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Marinate the beef in the red wine overnight.
- Preheat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add pancetta and cook over medium heat until the meat becomes crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate lined with paper towel.
- Remove the beef from red wine (don’t discard the wine, you’ll need it soon!) Pat it dry, and season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and sear your beef in the pancetta fat in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan. Remove when the meat is nicely browned on all sides, and repeat until all beef is browned.
- Add the onions, carrot, and celery to the pan, and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes until all are golden and soft. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.
- Add the tomato paste and beef, and caramelize over medium-high heat for one minute. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the cooking pot, making sure nothing burns to the bottom of the pan.
- Add your red wine and beef stock to the pan and deglaze, using your wooden spoon to stir the browned bits into the liquid. Bring to a slow boil, add your bouquet garni, cover with a lid and place your pot in the oven.
- While the meat cooks, heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. When hot, add the mushrooms in batches (as with the beef, you don’t want the pan to become overcrowded). Season with salt and pepper, and cook until golden. Remove from the pan, set aside, and repeat until all mushrooms are cooked. Repeat this process with pearl onions.
- After approximately 1½ hours in the oven, when the meat is about two-thirds cooked, remove the Dutch oven and take the beef out with tongs. Add the beef to a fresh pan with pancetta, mushrooms, and pearl onions. Strain the sauce into this pan, removing the vegetables and bouquet garni. (You can discard the heavily cooked vegetables, or serve them as a side dish, if you like.)
- Bring the pot to a simmer on the stovetop and cook gently for around 30 minutes for the sauce to thicken. Check every five minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure none of the ingredients are catching and burning. Skim off any foam or fat that collects on the surface of the liquid.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a side of rich mashed potatoes, boiled new potatoes, or crusty French bread.