Let’s face it, stews are rich and comforting. They are meant to be slow-cooked to tenderize tough cuts of meat and to infuse the stew with the essence of the meat and aromatics. Best of all, stews are a hearty meal any time of year.
One of my go-to stews is a beef bourguignon, a classic French stew hailing from the wine-rich region of Burgundy. It’s a delicious one-pot dinner and it’s guaranteed to make your kitchen enticingly fragrant.
There are a few key details to remember when making the stew. Be sure to brown the meat well in the beginning and use a good-quality red wine that you would happily drink. It doesn’t have to be a pricey bottle, but it should certainly be quaffable.
Ideally, start the stew a day ahead of serving (or even two). Not only will the flavor improve with time, but it allows the fat to rise to the top when it cools, which is a nifty way to get rid of any extra unctuous fat. After a night in the fridge, all you need to do is lift off the solidified fat from the surface before you reheat the stew, and you will be left with a silky, rich stock.
I take a few liberties in making the classic French recipe, including the addition of a generous splash of cognac or Calvados (apple brandy) to deglaze the pan, and tomato paste to give extra body and fruitiness to the stock. A spoonful of brown sugar is a final addition to round out the flavors of the stew.
Yield: Serves 6
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 1/2 to 3 pounds beef chuck, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup cognac or Calvados
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 (750 ml) bottle full-bodied red wine
- 1 cup beef or chicken stock
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- Olive oil
- 8 ounces cremini or white mushrooms, ends trimmed, halved or quartered if large
- Kosher salt
- 1 to 2 medium carrots, peeled, sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 8 ounces pearl onions, peeled (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the beef to the pan, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat until all the beef is browned.
2. Add the cognac to the pot and deglaze, stirring up any brown bits. Reduce by half, and then pour the cognac over the reserved beef.
3. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the carrots, onion and garlic to the pot and saute over medium heat until the vegetables soften without browning, 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Return the beef and cognac to the pot. Add the wine, stock, thyme, bay leaves and tomato paste. The beef should be submerged in the stock. Add more stock or wine if needed.
5. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring every hour or so.
6. Place a sieve over a large saucepan. Carefully pour the stew into the sieve and strain the liquid into the saucepan. Separate the chunks of meat from the vegetables and set the meat aside. Press down on the remaining vegetables in the sieve to extract as much juice into the drained liquid as possible and discard the mashed vegetables.
7. Boil the liquid until the sauce is reduced by about one-third and slightly thickened, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat from the surface.
8. Stir in the sugar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the beef to the sauce. (Note: At this point, the stew may be made one to two days in advance. Cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight. One hour before serving, remove from the refrigerator, discard any collected fat from the surface of the stew, and prepare the vegetables.)
9. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, lightly season with salt, and saute until light golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
10. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same skillet, then add the carrots and onions and saute until bright in color and crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the vegetables to the stew and simmer over medium heat to heat through, 10 to 15 minutes. Ladle the stew into warm bowls and serve.
Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories.