I first came across Beef Bourguignon at a restaurant in downtown Luzern, just across the bridge. It was the season when the leaves start to turn golden, yellow and red, adding a rustling carpet on the Swiss cobble-stoned streets. Summer has long since bid adieu, and it was time to seek refuge in the warmth of rustic dinners, red wine, suss most and comforting stews.
Coming in from the cold, me and my Greek friend gladly peeled off our jumpers and sat down by the window fronting the river. It was seven in the evening, but the sun has not set yet. Just grey and purple and a smattering of color from passersby's with loud neon jackets and the aforementioned falling leaves. The waiter handed us the menu, and suggested the Bourguignon special. My German was not that great at the time, but I did understand it to be stewed beef with crusty bread. It certainly was an invitation not to waste more time perusing the menu. Quickly we added a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Gut the waiter said and shuffled off to the kitchen pass. Johnny Halliday was singing Je serai la from the piped in music, and we settled in.
After ten minutes of idle talk and watching different people pass through the stone archways, steaming bowls of the rich stew were placed in front of us, the smell of red wine making the cabernet almost, but not quite, redundant. Warm crusty bread was placed in a basket for us to dig in. Like the song of the sirens, the aroma drew our faces closer to the glistening stew, and before my nose could take a dip into the rich sauce, the spoon was already bridging the gap to my cold lips. And the warmth exploded the moment it touched my tongue. The deep, robust flavor encapsulating and reaching into every pore in my body. The beef was tender, juicy, and incredibly flavorful. The shallots and the bacon were a welcome contrast in texture. The dark sauce just was begging for the crusty bread. And for forty five minutes I enjoyed that bowl. Enjoying every bite every slurp until the last piece of bread wiped up the last smear of sauce. It was that good.
So I searched for the perfect recipe, something that replicated that one fall afternoon’s delight. I have seen several variations, bastardized versions, and close-guarded classics. But I immortalized the following recipe in my little black book.
Makes for 8 servings
1.250 kg beef short ribs, deboned
80 g butter
Cut into 1.5 inch chunks, and season with salt and pepper
Heat a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add butter and melt
Add the beef in batches, coloring them on all sides. It is important to put it in batches so as not to lower the pans temperature
Remove from pan and transfer to bowl
200 g white onions, chopped
100 g carrots, peeled and diced
30 g garlic, chopped
60 g button mushroom whole
Return beef to pan and stir to distribute evenly
1 750 bottle of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon
Add the wine to deglaze, and stir to scrape off the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan
Preheat oven to 160C/350F
20 g fresh parsley
20 g fresh thyme
Bring to boil, then lower heat to a simmer
With a match, light up the simmering surface. Evaporating alcohol will flame up. Keep on doing this until the alcohol has fully evaporated, or there is no more flame
Transfer everything top a braising pan, then cover tightly with tin foil
Place pan in oven and braise for about 2 1/2 hours
Remove from pan to test for tenderness
Transfer meat and vegetables to a bowl and strain the remaining liquid to a sauce pan
Heat sauce pan and reduce to about half of its original quantity
Strain sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a smaller sauce pan then reduce by half again. The resulting sauce will be a deep syrupy sauce
Mix sauce with the meats and vegetables
Serve hot in bowls with a slice of crusty bread, or mashed potatoes if you like.
Traditionalists would also serve this with pomme dauphinoise.
On cold days, this sets the mood. Play some Barry White or Madeline Peyroux. Or even Joss Stone. You really can’t brood with this stew. You only can be, at worst, melancholy, and reminiscing at best.
Tell me what you first feel on that first spoonful of Bourguignon. Post a comment and let everybody know if it was an epiphany or something else…