This month's Daring Cooks challenge was fairly close to my heart, as a couple of weeks ago I spent my weekend in the picturesque town of Chablis, immersing myself in the Burgundy wine and food culture. Although not all the typical dishes of this region are enduring classics that I am going to enjoy trying to make for years to come - the pig colon sausage, andouillette, being something that I hope I never get within a fifty mile radius of ever again - there is a reason why boeuf bourguignon is one of the classic recipes of the region: it's bloody good.
I did, in fact, sample an authentic boeuf bourguignon while in Chablis. The receptionist at our hotel had been cruel enough to cook the dish for himself that evening, meaning that the entire building was permeated with the mouthwatering aroma of braising beef and wine. How he could have been so selfish as to not share it with us, I really don't know. Unable to even consider eating anything else, we hurried off and found a restaurant offering the dish. We tucked into tender chunks of beef, falling apart under the pressure of a fork and bathed in a dark, flavoursome jus, rich with the aroma of salty bacon and the depth of red wine.
This month's challenge used a Julia Child recipe, and involved some interesting steps that I hadn't considered before. First, the rind was cut off the streaky bacon and the whole lot simmered together in water before being dried thoroughly and then fried. I'm not sure what this step was meant to achieve, but it was an interesting idea; perhaps to remove some of the salt from the bacon. Secondly, the meat was also dried thoroughly with kitchen towel before being browned over a high heat; I'd never thought of doing this, but of course it helps the meat to brown more and sizzle when it comes into contact with the hot pan. Thirdly, once the beef and veg had been mixed together and coated in flour, it went into the oven for a few minutes to develop a crust before the liquid was added. I'll certainly be using these techniques next time I make a stew, because the result was fantastic. Also, the garlic wasn't cooked along with the vegetables, as I normally do it; it was just added, raw and crushed, to the liquid before the stew went into the oven.
Browned cubes of beef, onion, carrot, bacon, flour. To this, you add a lot of red wine, some beef stock, crushed garlic, a bay leaf, thyme, and tomato puree. I did deviate from the recipe slightly, in that it tells you to add whole shallots and mushrooms sauteed in butter at the end of the cooking. I wanted the mushrooms (I used whole button mushrooms, as I love the texture) to add their rich flavour to the stew throughout the cooking process, so I added them at the beginning along with the carrot and onion. The shallots I added with about an hour to go in the oven, to give them time to soften and release their lovely juices but still keep their shape.
There's something so addictive about the surprising burst of a meltingly soft baby onion in the middle of a pool of deep, dark gravy. They add a welcome tang to the richness of the meat and bacon, and look like little pearly globes of deliciousness as they sit there, awaiting your fork. Similarly, the button mushrooms, which add an irresistible pop of texture.
I don't think I've ever made boeuf bourguignon before, and this has made me realise what I'm missing. I think it's my favourite ever stew recipe. The wine and stock thicken with the flour to make the most incredible thick, glossy sauce. It has such an amazing depth of flavour from the bacon and vegetables. The meat, after four hours in the oven, falls apart as you eat it. The shallots soften, becoming tender and delicious, a surprising change in texture as you bite into one alongside a piece of beef. The button mushrooms are meaty and delicious.
It really is the ultimate beef stew; the ideal winter comfort food, or spring comfort food on a rainy evening. I served mine with green beans and a large pillow of mashed potato into which I'd stirred a very generous amount of wholegrain mustard - it sets the richness of the beef off perfectly. Thank you, Fabi, for hosting this challenge and putting boeuf bourguignon into my permanent kitchen repertoire.
For the recipe used in this month's challenge, click here.