Last weekend the weather in LA was in the 90's. I was driving around with my air conditioner cranked to high and Mark spent the afternoon in the cool darkness of a movie theater. It seems a bit soon for that kind of nonsense and the idea of this kind of heat starting halfway into April was more than a little disconcerting. Concerns about global warming not withstanding, I'm just not quite ready for hot weather food. Preparing for cooler weather last fall, I had put together a mental list of dishes that I wanted to make, dishes that only seem suitable when the air is chilly, or at least brisk, things such braises, roasts, slow cooking, rich meats, hearty vegetables.
Checking for forecast for the upcoming week I was elated to discover that the heat spell was indeed brief and temperatures were likely going to dip way down to the low 60's. People, in California, that's a cold snap. Despite the fact that the bounties of spring were starting to appear in full force at the farmers markets, I decided I needed to take this opportunity to make one last cold weather dish. What could be more wintery than Beef Bourguignon?
This version of Beef Bourguignon is a combination of three recipes that I liked the sound of but couldn't decide between. Part Ina Garten (the list of ingredients), part Martha Stewart's Everyday Food (the roasted pearl onions and mushrooms) and part Cooks Illustrated (elements of the technique). I have to say, I'm really pleased with the results.
1 tablespoon good olive oil
8 ounces thickly sliced pancetta or dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon, sliced into lardons
2 1/2 to 3 pounds chuck beef, trimmed of fat and silverskin, cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 cups beef broth (homemade or organic in a carton)
1 pound carrots, thickly sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 cup Cognac
1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
(for the roasted mushrooms and pearl onions)
1 pound peeled pearl onions, tip and root end sliced off (to easily peel, toss the onions in boiling water and leave for 2 minutes. Strain out and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Slice off the root and tip and then just peel off the papery skin)
1 pound crimini mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth and sliced in half
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Italian parsley, chopped
mashed or boiled potatoes
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch skillet. Add the pancetta and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is lightly browned. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon to a large plate lined with a couple layers of paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat and reserve.
Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high and brown half of beef in single layer, turning once or twice, until deep brown, about 7 minutes.
Transfer browned beef to a cast iron Dutch oven. Pour 1/2 cup beef stock into skillet and scrape pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; when pan bottom is clean, pour liquid into Dutch oven.
Return skillet to high heat and add 2 teaspoons reserved fat and swirl to coat pan bottom. When fat begins to smoke, brown remaining beef in single layer, turning once or twice, until deep brown, about 7 minutes. Transfer browned beef to Dutch oven. Pour 1/2 cup beef stock into skillet and scrape pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; when pan bottom is clean, pour liquid into Dutch oven.
Pour the remaining fat into the skillet and heat over medium high heat. Toss the onions, carrots, thyme, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the skillet, stirring to coat. If there isn't quite enough fat left, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol.
Scrape the onion and carrot mixture into the Dutch oven along with the pancetta, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Pour in the bottle of wine.
Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork. Strain the meat and vegetables into a large bowl and set aside.
Crank the oven up to 425 degrees F.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a separate rimmed baking sheets, toss mushrooms and onions with oil and thyme, then season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and browned, stirring halfway through, about 30 minutes.
While the mushrooms and pearl onions are roasting, combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Simmer over medium heat and whisking occasionally to ensure the bottom isn't burning, until the sauce has reduced a little and thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. Return the meat and vegetables and gently stir to coat everything with the sauce. Keep warm over low heat.
Once the mushrooms and pearl onions are finished roasting, scrape them into the dutch oven, stir gently to combine.
Serve in wide, shallow bowls with boiled new potatoes tossed with butter, parsley, salt and cracked pepper.
Braising well browned meat in wine is such a great method of cooking. If the beef is well marbled, during the long slow cooking the fat melts and the meat that's left behind becomes so tender you can just shred it with your fingers. The technique I borrowed from Cooks Illustrated, that of browning the beef in a saute pan and then using broth to deglaze, is really great. It seems to really intensify the rich, meaty flavor. Plus since Dutch ovens are cast iron, they don't heat quite as evenly as a saute pan with the copper center and as such, I found that when I browned meat in a dutch oven, the cubes toward the center get significantly darker than those around the edge. I really liked browning the meat in the saute pan and then transferring to the Dutch oven.
The roasted pearl onions add a pop of silky, sweetness and the mushrooms play off the braised meat, adding an earthy depth of flavor. The carrots, which I was concerned might end up mushy, retain a really nice soft texture and, like the pearl onions, add sweetness but in more of a mild, subtle way. The red wine cooks down and thanks to the butter-flour mixture, thickens and becomes velvety with a glossy sheen. It's not super brothy, rather the sauce just coats everything and binds all the vegetables and meat together. You'll totally want something carby or starchy to soak it up, be it the boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes or as Ina Garten suggests in her recipe, buttery, garlic rubbed toast.
Since it takes a bit of time to put together (particularly trimming the fat from the meat, takes a surprising about of time) this is obviously not a weeknight meal. As one of those dishes that tastes better the next day, it's a good candidate to entertain with. Just reheat over low, stirring often and you're set. You may have to add a splash of beef broth or water, if the sauce has thickened too much overnight.