Wednesday 16 December 2015

Photo Essay: Preparing Boeuf Bourguignon

The ingredients of a Boeuf Bourguignon (for 6 people)

For a complete change of pace, I thought I'd create a photo essay of my favourite recipe: boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy). It was fun working on the recipe in my kitchen and stopping every ten minutes, or so, to take several photographs of each step in the process. I set the camera on a tripod and used its time-delay function. 

My first experience of this wonderful dish was in the early '80s. My good friend Dave was doing post-doctoral research in Strasbourg, France. He prepared it one evening during my visit there. It was fun watching him so fully engaged in the long and involved procedure.

Julia Child — The French Chef
I started making this dish myself many years ago, refining the process over time. I use Julia Child's basic recipe — using just about all of her list of ingredients, but simplifying the process slightly.

Boeuf bourguignon is a stew. The beef is braised slowly in red wine, or in a red wine-beef broth mixture. The stew is flavoured with onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Pearl onions, mushroom and lardons are added about two-thirds of the way through the cooking-time. 

This stew is basic peasant food — probably used most often as a method of dealing with overly-tough hunks of beef. As time passed it was refined into French haute cuisine. The recipe most people use today — including Julia Child, in her classic collection of French recipes, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) — was first described by the great French cook, restaurateur, and writer Auguste Escoffier [1846-1935].

Auguste Escoffier

But as Julia Child points out, there is more than one way to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Regardless of the details, and despite any deviations from Escoffier's basic concept, Child describes boeuf bourguignon as "certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man." She also points out that it is one of those meals that can be prepared ahead of time — even a day in advance — because it only gains in flavour when it is reheated. 

If you've never prepared a boeuf bourguignon before, give this a try. It's one of those recipes that takes several hours (a minimum of about four hours, I reckon) — I usually do it on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The result is sublime, making the long process well worth the effort!

Ingredients (for 6 people)

2 lbs (900 g) of stewing beef (chuck steak) in pieces
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 medium onions (sliced)
2 heaped tablespoons of plain flour
15 fl oz (425 ml) red Burgundy wine
8 fl oz (200 ml) beef stock
2 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large bay leaf
12 oz (350 g) pearl onions
8 oz (225 g) smoked bacon (bought as a piece)
4 oz (110 g) mushrooms (I use portabello)
salt and pepper


1.  Put 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan. Heat at medium temperature.

2.  Add the pieces of beef to the hot oil in the frying pan. You'll probably have to do this in two or three batches. You may need to add a bit more oil for the final batch.

3. Sear one side of the pieces of beef at a medium-high temperature until they are dark brown. Turn the pieces of beef over with a fork, in order to do the other side.

4.  When each batch of beef is seared in the frying pan, remove it and place the beef on a plate that has some paper towels on top. The paper is there to absorb the excess oil on the cooked beef.

Roll the seared beef in plain flour — it will help thicken the broth

5.  When all the beef is seared, roll the pieces around in a bowl, or on a plate that contains the flour. Bang each piece of beef on the plate, in order to remove excess flour. The flour coating will thicken the broth as the stew cooks. Put the beef into a large casserole.

6.  Put the sliced onion into the frying pan with the remainder of the browned oil used to sear the beef. Add a bit of oil if necessary. Fry the onion gently at medium heat for a couple of minutes, until it is soft. Add the cooked onion to the beef in the casserole.

7.  Chop a couple of cloves of garlic into tiny pieces and add to the casserole.

8.  Measure the red Burgundy wine into a measuring cup, and then pour it into the casserole.

Use a good quality Burgundy — it will taste better! (and you can sip the leftovers)

9.  Season the whole mixture with salt and pepper.

10.  Pour 200 ml of beef stock (1 cup) into the casserole. I use a packet of dried beef stock mixture and add boiling water to it. You could use the solid cubes, but the crumbled stuff in the packets dissolves easier. Add the bay leaf and sprigs of thyme.

11.  The pieces of beef in the casserole should be completely covered. Add a bit of water, if necessary. As the meat cooks, you will want to check it every half-hour, or so, to make sure that not too much of the liquid evaporates away. Add some wine, stock, or water, in order to keep the meat well covered. Stir.

12.  Put the lid on the casserole and place it in the middle of an oven that has been pre-heated to 450° F (230° C). Turn the oven down to 325° F (160° C) and cook for 2 hours. [Wonderful aromas will begin to pervade the kitchen after 30-45 minutes.] Take the lid off the casserole and stir about once every 30 minutes.

13.  Chop the smoked bacon into small cubes. I get my smoked bacon from the deli counter of the local supermarket.

Buy the smoked bacon in one large piece — then chop it into small lardons.

14.  Chop the ends off each pearl onion and peel off the outer layer of skin. [If you know how to remove the skin-layer from the pearl onions after par-boiling them, do that — it's easier!] The pearl onions I have found at my local supermarket can be white, yellow, or red. Any of those will do.

15.  Fry the pearl onions and the small pieces of bacon ("lardons") in a frying pan for about 3-5 minutes.

16.  Chop the mushrooms into small hunks — not too small.

17.  After two hours, remove the beef mixture from the oven (use oven mitts!) and add the pearl onions, bacon and mushroom. At this point you will probably need to top-up the liquid. Add about half a cup of wine, some more beef stock, and a bit of water in order to have the contents of the casserole covered in liquid. Season again with a little salt and pepper.

18.  Put the casserole back into the oven for another hour (still at 160° C — that's 325° F).

19.  Prepare some boiled potatoes and steamed green beans and a green salad, etc. Drink some wine!

19.  After the hour of cooking [that's three hours total!], turn the oven off, remove the casserole, and let the stew cool for a while before serving. [Remove the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme.]

The boeuf bourguignon — right out of the oven

What to Serve it With

I think boeuf bourguignon goes best with boiled potatoes and green beans (or peas). But egg-noodles, or steamed rice, works instead of potatoes. Use small, new potatoes, if you can.

Slices of baguette is a good accompaniment. I also serve a course of green salad. Keep it simple: lettuce, radicchio, endive, and cucumber, perhaps — with a light vinaigrette dressing.

Begin with a simple green salad, whilst the stew cools

Wine Recommendation

The better the wine you cook the boeuf bourguignon with, the better the stew will taste! Since it's a "beef burgundy", I always cook with a red Burgundy. Doh! But any good bottle of Pinot Noir wine will do the trick.

Serve the meal with a full-bodied young, red wine — such as Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, Bordeaux-St. Émilion, or Burgundy.

Enjoy. Bon appetit!

... and you can savor the Burgundy whilst you're preparing the meal!


  1. Clive, Tony just commented on my boeuf bourguignon post and emailed me the link to yours. Yours looks perfectly delicious, but I leave the garlic out of mine (allergic!) and no one ever notices it's missing. I like to make it two days ahead. Isn't it a wonderful thing to have in the oven on a cold winter's day!

  2. PS I forgot to mention that I'm dazzled by your ways with the pearl onions -- I cheat and use frozen pearl onions!

    1. It's time-consuming dealing with them. But worth it, in the end!