Taking four days to make beef bourguignon may seem excessive. There are plenty of recipes that enable you to eat an excellent version of the dish on the same day that you start to prepare it, so why take four days? I must admit when I first read Thomas Keller’s recipe I wondered much the same, but having made, it’s easy to see why.
Stews, casseroles, soups, lasagne; for some reason these all taste better as leftovers. In the same way that marinating meat before cooking it imparts additional flavour, over time we have begun to realise that some foods need to rest and improve after they have been cooked. Whilst this post might not result in you taking four days to make your next bourguignon, I’d suggest you make your next casserole or stew a day in advance and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Aside from increasing the intensity of flavour, you can skim some of the fat from the top, making it a little healthier and giving it a cleaner taste.
Back to the Beef Bourguignon.
Step 1 – The Red Wine reduction
In order to get a strong red wine flavour into the dish, you need to reduce a bottle of red into a sticky glaze by reducing it at a high temperature. If you do this with beef in the pot, you’ll boil the beef at the same time which is not the flavour you’re looking for.
Into a heavy cast iron pot, put 125-150g of each of the following cut into rough chunks: onion, shallots, carrots, leeks (white and light green parts only) mushrooms (chestnut or portabellini) . Crush four cloves of garlic and add to the pan with five whole peppercorns. Make a bouquet garni of thyme, parsley and bay leaves; if you haven’t got a piece of string handy, the little rubber band that herbs are often bunched in will do much the same job. Pour over a whole bottle of red wine, save for a half glass for yourself to enjoy whilst browning the beef. On a medium to high heat, it will take about half an hour for the wine to reduce to a sticky glaze with very little liquid left.
When choosing a bottle of wine to make bourguignon, the obvious choice would be a red burgundy. Suitable alternatives include Cabernet Sauvignon or a new world Pinot Noir. The old adage applies. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it.
2. Additional vegetables
Whilst the wine is reducing, prepare another 100g of each of the following: carrots, onions, shallots, leeks. Once the red wine reduction is ready, remove the original bouqet garni and replace with a new one made of thyme, parsley and bay once again. Add the additional vegetables and mix well.
3. Browning the meat
I went to the Ginger Pig on Saturday and asked for 1.5kg of braising steak cut into large cubes. The butcher simply cut me a single 1.5kg piece and then asked if I wanted to cut it up, or whether he should do it, knowing full well that I would choose the former. I cut the large pieces of fat out and then the turned it into approximately 20 large chunks.
The key to buying beef for this dish is that it should be good quality braising steak and that the pieces should be approximately 1 inch cubes. The beef is braised slowly and if the pieces are too small, they could disintegrate.
Dry your beef on kitchen paper. Wet beef won’t brown in the pan, it will steam. Season the cubes all over with salt and pepper. Take a large frying pan and put it on a high heat with a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed or groundnut oil (something that won’t smoke – do not use olive oil!). When the pan is very hot, add some of the beef. It is very important not to crowd the pan otherwise the beef will steam and not brown. I browned my 20 pieces in five batches. As a rule of thumb, aim to fill less than half the pan at a time. Each batch will take 5-6 minutes to brown on all sides. If you have prepared the cubes in advance, you can get it all done whilst the red wine reduces.
When you have browned each batch of beef, drain the cubes on kitchen paper. After all the beef has browned, the pan will have a developed a crust of beef ‘fond’. With the heat up high, pour in a little water and using a spoon, scrape up the fond until it combines with the water. Pour the resulting liquid into the red wine reduction.
4. Combing the beef, vegetables and red wine reduction
You should now have a large pot with a red wine reduction and fresh vegetables mixed into it and 1.5kg of beef, browned to perfection. The vegetables in the pot will be thrown away after being braised in the oven as they will have turned to mush from being cooked for so long. The jus will be strained over the beef. The easiest way to retrieve the beef after it has been braised is to create a barrier between the ingredients. Take a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and run it under the cold tap. Wring out the excess water and place the flatten cloth over the vegetables. Lay the beef on top in a single or double layer. Pour over at least 1 litre of good quality stock.
This dish depends on good quality ingredients. Cheap beef, poor quality wine or salty stock from a cube will ruin it. Aside from your own home made stock, the next best alternatives are either the pouches of fresh stock available in supermarkets or the Knorr stock gels.
Use a litre of dark beef stock or a combination of beef and veal stock. If this doesn’t cover the beef, add some water to the pot until the beef is just covered.
Cut a piece of parchment or baking paper to the size of the pot and make a small hole in the middle. This will allow steam to escape without too much of the liquid evaporating. Put the lid on. It goes into an oven pre-heated to 190c for 2 hours.
4. Letting it rest
After the beef has braised for two hours, remove the beef from the pot and put it into a clean receptacle, large enough to accommodate it and the litre or so of cooking jus. The value of the muslin will be evident here as it will allow you to easily remove the beef without having to fish around or scrape off bits of shallot!
Take a fine sieve and line it with another piece of muslin. Strain the liquid over the beef. Put a lid on the new receptacle and let it sit in the fridge for 3 days. After a few hours, any further fat will solidify and come to the surface. Skim that off when you get a chance.
I’ll be back later in the week with details of how to finish the dish off.