I remember when I first purchased Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: I nestled into my parents’ welcoming La-Z-Boy and proceeded to read the entire tome almost cover to cover, lovingly marking recipes I wanted to try with my trusty Post-It notes. One of those recipes was, of course, the famous beef dish, beef bourguignon: tender chunks of beef simmered slowly in red wine and beef stock and garnished with buttery pearl onions and earthy mushrooms. Julia calls it “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes ever concocted by man.”
I remember how much more daunting her recipes seemed to me then. Now I can look at her recipes with fresh, open eyes—while Julia was an amazing recipe writer, she wasn’t exactly a fan of shortcuts—and make the changes I see fit to streamline her complicated processes.
Most of this delicious recipe follows Julia’s original to the letter, but I did make a few changes to “modernize” it and make it a little less time-consuming. For instance, I didn’t see any point in blanching my bacon before frying it or in putting the flour-crusted beef in the oven for 10 minutes rather than sauteing it. Also, I opted to use frozen pearl onions because 1) they’re already peeled and 2) because I didn’t want to waste an hour cooking them slowly in butter before adding them to the stew. Instead, I add the frozen pearl onions during the last 15-3o minutes of cooking—just enough time for them to thaw and take on the flavors of the accompanying stew. Lastly, Julia called for removing the beef from the casserole and cooking down the sauce; I didn’t see any need to do so, and a few extra minutes simmering on the stove top produced the same effect without all the hassle of removing the meat and returning it back to the pot.
As Julia relays in the preface to this recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, there are many ways to arrive at a great beef bourguignon. And, baby, this is one of them. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine did. Bon Appetit!
(Almost) Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
Cuts like rump roast or chuck roast work best in this hearty French stew. This recipe has been adapted from Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I altered a few steps to make this recipe a little less time-consuming for the modern chef. As Julia Child notes before the original recipe: “Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes ever concocted by man.” Active time: 1 hour 15 minutes; Total time: 5 hr 30 minutes. Click here to download a printable PDF copy of this recipe.
For the Stew:
6 pieces thick-cut bacon, diced
3½ Tbs. olive oil
3 pounds stewing beef (chuck roast, top or bottom round) cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young & full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2½ to 3½ cups brown beef stock
1 Tbs. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
1 (16-ounce) package frozen pearl onions
2-3 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced, for serving
For the mushrooms:
1½ tablespoons butter
1½ olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1. Sauté the bacon in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.
2. Brown beef and veggies. Dry beef in paper towels (it will not brown if it is damp). Add olive oil to pot and heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
3. Add flour. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Saute the beef cubes for about 4 or 5 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste and form a crust on the beef.
4. Add remaining stew ingredients. Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer.
5. Bake the stew. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
6. Prepare the mushrooms. While the beef is cooking, heat the butter and the oil until bubbling in a skillet. As soon as you see the butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms and thyme. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Finish the bourguignon. When the meat is tender, after about 3 to 4 hours, remove the casserole from the oven and put it on the stovetop. Add the frozen pearl onions, and bring the stew to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the cooked mushrooms. Taste the sauce, and season carefully with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf. If sauce is too thin, simmer for a few more minutes until the desired consistency is reached.
8. Serve the stew in casserole, or arrange it on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.