Bejeweled Boeuf: To soak or to sulk?
Boeuf Bourguignon was never meant to be a dish for fine dining. To be honest, it is a pretty generic dish of beef stewed in wine and stock. Any basic beef stew with gravy made from its braising liquid would end up pretty close to Boeuf Bourguignon. What makes this dish unique is the use of wine from a specific region of France, the amount of it used and the accompanying garnishes that embellish the finished dish. As far as beef stews go, this would probably make it to my top 3, pretty close to my all-time favorite beef stew-Beef Rendang.
There is a debate on whether there is a need to marinate the beef overnight. While reading up on the pros and cons of marinating, I could only find the hassle of an extra step as the major negative. I also read that even after doubling the usual marinating time (from 12 to 24 hours), the wine only penetrates the beef to a few millimeters from the surface, to which the author concludes is a waste of time. But is it?
Julia Child's version does away with marinating the beef overnight. This was how Julie Powell did it in the movie Julie and Julia, and after a bit of searching online, I found that Julia Child's recipe, indeed, does not require soaking the beef in wine and aromatics overnight.
While I can only guess Julia's reason for skipping this step (it could be to make the dish simpler for first timers), her version isn't the classical way of doing it. Julia Child learned to cook from Le Cordon Bleu, the same school I went to. And since we were taught to marinate the beef overnight, I am presuming she was taught the same (the French are pretty stubborn and traditional).
Here are my reasons for sticking to tradition when it comes Boeuf Bourguignon:
You already have the wine, the beef and the aromatics. Getting a 12-hour head start can't possibly do harm.
For those who say the marinade only penetrates a few millimeters in 24 hours and has little effect, I ask this question: Why salt and pepper your steak before cooking? Deep does the seasoning penetrate? Why rub meats in herbs? Does the herb flavor and aroma reach all the way to the center?
It is common knowledge that searing meats before stewing gives the dish depth of flavor. Searing's purpose is twofold. One, you sear the beef to create a crust from the caramelized surface of the beef, which, some believe, keeps moisture in. That is debatable. Two, searing also creates fond, the brown bits of caramelized juices that stick to the bottom of the pot. That is flavor and is nondebatable. Both of these reasons include the word caramelize, which is the toasting or burning of sugars in food. What else has a lot of sugar in it? The wine! Soaking the beef overnight means that when searing time comes, you end up with gorgeous crust on your beef and dark, dark fond because of the sugars in the wine.
I mentioned that Boeuf Bourguignon is just like any other stew and that is the truth, except you pour a whole bottle of wine in, instead of a cup's worth. I also mentioned the classic garnishes that go along with the stew, namely, sauteed button mushrooms, pearl onions and matchsticks of bacon. It may seem more tedious than your regular stew or pot roast but, since you're using ordinary cuts of beef, take the time to draw out as much flavor from each step of the cooking process as you can.
Great dishes don't come from the most expensive ingredients or the most elaborate preparations or presentations. Classics stand the test of time for a reason-they've been perfected over the years. Do yourself a favor and cook this stew on a weekend, and if you can delay gratification, eat it a day after you've made it. Marinate on a Friday, cook on Saturday and eat on Sunday-a true weekend dish if there ever was one!
1.5 kg stewing beef (I like a bit of tendon so I used kalitiran, but shank or beef cheeks would be even better and stickier)
For the marinade:
1 bottle red wine (go for Burgundy if you can afford it, but any dry red would do)
2 pcs. white onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 pcs. carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 pcs. bay leaves
4 pcs. parsley stalks
2 pcs. white onions, peeled and diced
2 pcs. carrots peeled and cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups good beef stock
bouquet garni (3 stalks fresh thyme, 3 stalks parsley, 2 bay leaves tied)
For the garnish:
20 pcs. peeled local shallots
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. sugar
150g picnic bacon (slab bacon), sliced into batons (thick matchsticks)
10 pcs. white button mushrooms
2 tbsp. butter
salt and pepper
chopped flat leaf parsley
1. Slice beef into cubes of 1.5 to 2 inches.
2. In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients with the beef and refrigerate overnight.
3. After 12 hours, take beef pieces out of the marinade and pat each piece dry with a paper towel.
4. Reserve marinade mix for stewing.
5. Heat a heavy-bottomed stockpot, cast iron pot or dutch oven.
6. Place bacon in the pot until slightly toasted and fat has rendered. Set bacon aside for garnish.
7. In the bacon fat, sear beef pieces until dark brown on all sides. Do not crowd the pan, sear the beef in batches of eight to 10 pieces at a time. Set beef aside.
8. Take the vegetables out of the marinade and saute in the same pot, making sure the vegetables are also caramelized.
9. Add beef back to the pot and sprinkle with flour. Mix everything to spread the flour evenly.
10. Add tomato paste to the pot and stir to spread.
11. Pour in the wine marinade and stir. Add beef stock, bouquet garni and peppercorns.
12. Stew on very low heat for 1.5 hours, covered.
13. After 1.5 hours, remove as much of the vegetables as you can. Most will turn to mush and mix with the sauce. Add fresh set of vegetables (second set of carrots, onions and celery) to the stew. Season with salt to taste. Continue cooking on low, uncovered until the beef is fork tender.
14. For the garnish, saute quartered mushrooms in butter and season. Set aside.
15. In a pan, place shallots, butter and half a cup of water and let simmer until shallots are tender and liquid has dried up and turned into caramel. Toss shallots in caramelized cooking liquid until browned on the sides. Set aside.
16. To serve, remove bouquet garni from the pot and sprinkle bacon, shallots, chopped parsley and sauteed mushroom over the stew.