It’s been a while since I wrote about traditional comfort food and it has definitely been a while since I’ve made this dish. It’s hard to make this dish without thinking about Julia Child if you live in the US. I went through my Julia Child phase many years ago (not that she invented the dish but she made it popular here, like really really popular), cooked many of her recipes and my love for her hasn’t diminished one bit. She totally owns! and I have great respect and admiration for her. I don’t necessarily cook it like her (I wish) but my approach to cooking B.B. is a bit more modern, simpler and faster I would say. Let’s go.
Under pressure… (the Queen version of course)
This is how I cook B.B. There’s something special about it. To me, it is superior to regular low and slow cooking, possibly because it doesn’t let any flavor (almost any) out of the pot. When your whole house smells wonderful after roasting a leg of lamb, or baking bread… that’s flavor that’s no longer in the food. Pressure cooking allows you to keep that flavor in the food. These days I own one of those digital pressure cookers (instant pot) and I love it. Just having a timer built into the thing is priceless. It also does a pretty great job at adjusting the temperature to maintain pressure without overheating which is one of the difficulties of using standard pressure cookers. I know how to use those too but for the longest time, I was pressure cooking the wrong way. I thought that a screaming valve spewing vapor and condensed water was ok. Pressure cooking done well is about keeping the cooker as quiet as possible without losing pressure which usually means the bottom of the vessel is not hot enough to burn the food. Yeah… took me years to realize this. I’m horrible at reading those damn manuals.
3-4 pounds of stew meat. I like Chuck.
1-2 onions. Finely chopped.
4-6 celery stalks. Finely chopped.
4-6 carrots. Finely chopped.
10 garlic cloves.
2 thick-cut bacon strips. chopped.
1 stick of butter.
20 pearl onions.
20 mushrooms. Brown, white… whatever you can find.
1 bottle of burgundy. Full-bodied.
1-2 quarts beef stock, or chicken stock.
Herbs to your liking. Rosemary and thyme work really well.
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
I’ve made this with merlot wine and cabernet mainly, but this time I chose to go with a pinot noir. Not full bodied but whatever. I work with what I have and pinot noir is my favorite grape. Now there’s something about cooking with wine that is hard to overcome. There’s an acidity problem. You wouldn’t have this issue with fortified wines which can be sweeter like port, for example. Port reductions are wonderful and well balanced without any help in my opinion. I always struggle with standard wine and that’s probably because I try to keep the cost of my cooking within reasonable boundaries. I mean, I use tasty wines but I disagree with the acidity level of the food at the end (especially if using a whole bottle). I tend to balance it by adding brown sugar until I take the edge off but I’m open to suggestions. By the way, I reduce the wine beforehand to make room in the pressure cooker. You can reduce any wine and keep them ready for cooking which is handy and super cool.
Bacon fat or butterfat. How about both.
People on diets please move on. B.B. is about richness and deliciousness. It calls for sauteing things in fat rendered from bacon or using lots of butter. Some traditional recipes use butter for the mushrooms and the pearl onions… and the bacon fat is reserved for the mirepoix and for browning the meat. I don’t think it really matters what goes with what. In the end up it will all end up in the same pot. I browned the veggies in butter because I love the smell (…flavor getting lost…). I do the mushrooms and the pearl onions in bacon fat. It’s delicious. I brown the meat on the grill. No fat or maybe brushed with some vegetable oil.
Those chunks of meat.
Most meat stew recipes start with cubed meat chunks that need to be browned before braising. Some call for dusting the meat cubes in flour before browning. I don’t cube the meat because that’s a ton of work. If making a big stew, you might be forced to work in batches and I hate that. And for the flour, I always add it as the last step but we’ll get to that in a moment. So… I rather roast the meat in the oven or in this case grill it. All you want is proper browning, enough to develop flavor on the surface. The meat doesn’t really need to cook through. All we need a nice thick golden brown crust and then we can cube it. Sure, you’re getting a 1/6 of the golden brown area but the time savings make up for that. You could deep fry the cubes and this works really well and it is a lot cleaner than sauteing them. Anyways, for my quick B.B., grilling works just fine.
Classic, and without it… the flavor isn’t quite there so I like to keep this ingredient in the mix. The main purpose of adding flour is to thicken the stew and the point of dusting meat cubes with it (if you decided to go down this path), aside from helping keep the meat a bit dryer during browning, is to also cook the flour to a golden point. This develops nutty flavors. If you’ve ever made a golden roux you know what I’m talking about. You can brown the flour in the oven or a skillet by itself and then add it to the stew in the end. I didn’t brown the flour… that’s just because I got lazy. But anyways, before you add the flour to the stew (which will need to be simmering btw… don’t add it if it’s cold) mix the flour with a bit of cold water. The flour will dissolve and won’t clump up when you mix it into the simmering pot. You’ll notice how nicely the liquid thickens. Pure magic and a ton of science.
Alright, How to cook this thing.
- Have everything ready.
- Cook the mirepoix in butter, reduce the liquid as much as possible. Give it some color. Season it.
- Cook the mushrooms and pearl onions with the bacon until everybody is getting some color. Season them.
- Grill the meat, or roast it in the oven and then cube. If browning the cubes, good luck. Deep frying is an idea.
- Reduce the wine in a saucepan until you’re left with about a few tablespoons.
- You can reduce the beef stock as well, same as before.
- You can add more water if necessary. Season.
- Add everything to your pressure cooker but the onions and the mushrooms. The solids should be barely covered with liquid.
- Pressure cook for 45 mins.
- Add the mushrooms and the onions and simmer for a little bit.
- Adjust the seasoning.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, add a splash of fish sauce to up the umami levels.
- If using rosemary, add before pressure cooking.
- If using thyme, add it in the last moments, while the stew still simmering.
- Add your flour slurry while the stew still simmers. Cook until it thickens.
- You can toast the flour until golden before step 15 for extra flavor.
- Serve over steamed potatoes, pasta, toasted bread. Pour it straight into your mouth. You decide.
The more I write about cooking the more I realize recipes are the worst idea in the cooking world. A list of ingredients and a few steps don’t guarantee a good meal. There’s so much more that needs to be taken into account. It really is all about technique. Beef Bourguignon is a great dish to practice proper cooking techniques. It’s all about flavor amplification by means of browning, and water reduction. I really love it and I hope I can translate some of the concepts of its cooking in the article. There’s always the comment section if you have any questions. Have a good night!
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