Boeuf bourguignon is a traditional French meat dish that is fairly easy to prepare. All you need is a lot of patience because it takes a long time to cook for the beef to become tender and succulent. To help tenderize the meat, I added an unconventional meat tenderizer (papaya paste) to my version of this French classic. If you want to make your beef bourguignon more authentic, just omit this ingredient. I also didn't add pearl onions, as I added a combination of leeks, shallots and sliced onions to the dish instead. The usual root vegetables (carrots and turnips) are also part of the gastronomic experience.
For anyone who is a fan of Julia Child or has watched the recent movie of her life, Julia and Julia, boeuf bourguignon may seem like too much of a challenge to make at home. But it doesn't really have to be this way. I used a slow cooker to make controlling the heat during the cooking process a simple task. With this method you needn't worry about the pot overflowing while the stew simmers. It may look good in movies, but you don't want to have to clean up that mess!
I put the ingredients in the slow cooker on low before going to sleep, and woke up to the aroma of beef stew permeating every room of the house. For the meat eaters, it's an intoxicating scent; for the vegetarians in my house, not so much. So if you have a slow cooker, try making boeuf bourguignon at home. It's easier to make than it looks, and the results are so worth the effort. And make sure that when you serve the dish to your loved ones, you start the meal with the phrase immortalized by Julia Child, "Bon appétit!"
Servings: 6 servings
2-½ pounds beef chuck, about 2-inch cubes
4 teaspoons papaya paste (see tips)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion
1 bouquet garni
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1-½ tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar (optional), depending on how sweet the onions are
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
3 cups Cabernet Sauvignon (or any red wine)
2 cups homemade beef stock, (or 16-ounce can)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 turnips, trimmed, peeled and quartered
2 cups button mushrooms, quartered
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
3 pounds fingerling potatoes, steamed and peeled
Peel and cut the onion in half. Stud the cloves into one half and thinly slice the rest.
Combine the beef cubes, red wine vinegar, papaya paste, bouquet garni and 1-½ cups of red wine. Season with black pepper. Toss well. Place the beef in a large bowl or a sealable zip-top bag. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 10 hours or overnight.
The following day...
Preheat the slow cooker (set on low mode, cook time "2 hours").
Remove the beef cubes from the marinade. Pat the meat dry using paper towels.
In a large heavy-bottom pan, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the remaining onions, leeks and shallots. Cook on high heat until slightly golden. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the caramelized onions, leeks and shallots to the slow cooker.
In the same pan, add another tablespoon of oil. Once the oil is hot enough, pan-sear each side of the beef cubes for about 1-½ minutes (a total of about 9 minutes) until nicely browned. Quickly transfer the beef to a platter. At this point the beef isn't cooked completely; it will finish cooking in the wine.
In the pan, add 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Cook until slightly golden and add the carrots and turnips. Allow to brown on each side. Add ½ to 1 cup of water. Scrape the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon (called deglazing). Once the liquid is evaporated, transfer the root vegetables to the slow cooker. Add the beef cubes to the slow cooker as well. Season with salt.
Add the marinade liquid, remaining wine, bouquet garni, clove studded half onion and beef stock to the pan. Bring to a boil for about 2-3 minutes, add the tomato paste, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter. Let simmer and reduce for about 10 minutes.
Cover the meat with the wine mixture. Cover the slow cooker with a lid and let simmer for 2 hours.
In a cocotte or any heavy-botttom pan, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the remaining garlic and cook on heat high until slightly golden. Add the button mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Set aside.
Melt the remaining butter in the cocotte over medium-low; you don't want the butter to burn. Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 2-3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter instantly and form a paste. Add about 1 cup of warm water. Once the sauce is homogeneous, add some of the liquid from the slow cooker and increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Transfer the beef bourguignon to the sauce. Bring the dish back to a boil. Add the sautéed button mushrooms and flat-leaf parsley. Stir well.
Serve warm with steamed potatoes, mashed potatoes or pasta.
Note: The stew tastes even better the following day!
How to make a bouquet garni: The traditional bouquet garni is composed of a sprig of thyme (I used lemon thyme), 1 bay leaf (torn in half), 1 small portion of leek (only the green part), a few flat-leaf parsley stems and a small stalk of celery. Gather all the ingredients in a large teabag or in a square of cheesecloth and tie it with some twine. You can use it to flavor sauces and broths.
The large teabag used for the bouquet garni can be found at Daiso, the Japanese version of a 99-cent store. They cost $1.50 for 40 tea bags.
I used Cabernet Sauvignon. Our friend Andrew gave it to us. If you have any red wine left, use it to make stewed cherries. It's delicious!
The flatter the onion is, the sweeter it is. I always try to pick flatter-shaped yellow onions at the market.
Papaya is a great meat tenderizer. This was Baji, Lulu's late grandma's secret for tender and moist meat. This is not an authentic ingredient for beef bourguignon but I think it makes the meat more tender. Peel a green papaya. Grind the cubed papaya with seeds in a mini food processor; place about 2 teaspoons of papaya paste per slot in an ice-cube tray and freeze them. Transfer the ice-cubes into sealable plastic bags and place back in the freezer. I think it's the best way to keep the same flavor without getting freezer burn. I store them exactly the same as I would extra pesto.
The roux (butter, flour and stock mixture) thickens the gravy and is an important step toward the end of cooking.