Classic Beef Bourguignon

beef bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon is one of those dishes that everyone who aspires to be a great cook should have to master. One the surface, its beef stew. And yet, calling beef Bourguignon a beef stew is like calling Beethoven’s Fifth a song. Technically accurate, to be sure, but nowhere near to conveying the subtle beauty of the dish. The great thing is that this dish is easy to make, but still requires the kind of attention and care that defines good cooking.

There are many versions of this dish around, and there is a great deal of variation from one version of beef Bourguignon to the next. The classic preparation uses whole small white onions, carrots and mushrooms in addition to the beef, some thyme and a red burgundy wine, which is 100% pinot noir. (I have this on the authority of no less than Julia Child, and that’s enough for me.)

In my experience of  making it, there are just two things to keep in mind. First, use a pretty good pinot noir. These tend to be pricey, but the rest of the ingredients are relatively inexpensive, so splurge. Second, reduce the wine in the pan before adding any other liquid. Really reduce it. The sauce at that point in the recipe should coat the ingredients like a syrup. It’s best to use beef chuck for this or any stew. Anything more lean will come out tough from all the cooking.

Again, to be perfect, the dish requires close attention from time to time, so it’s probably not a good idea to make it in a slow cooker or otherwise neglect it. The amazing layers of flavor are as much the result of timing  and care as they are the ingredients themselves. 

Beef Bourguignon is a rustic dish, so serve it simply. The only accompaniment you’ll want is some warm french bread.

Classic Beef Bourguignon
Serves 4
Calling beef bourguignon a beef stew is like calling Beethoven's Fifth a song. Technically accurate, but missing the subtle beauty of the dish.
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  1. About 1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into bite-size pieces
  2. Olive oil
  3. 2 shallots, minced
  4. 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 2 cups pearl onions, peeled
  6. 1/2 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  7. 2 cups red wine (pinot noir or French burgundy)
  8. 2 cups beef stock
  9. 8 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  10. 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme (1 Tbsp. dried thyme will work)
  11. 2 Tbsp. butter, softened
  12. 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  1. Season the beef with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large (6 qt) saute pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over moderately high heat and brown the beef on all sides until there is no pink showing and the beef cubes are dark brown and even a little crusty.
  3. Stir in the shallots and garlic and cook for about two minutes more.
  4. Add the pearl onions and cook those until they're shiny and starting to turn translucent, about five minutes.
  5. Stir in the mushrooms and continue cooking until they're just soft.
  6. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits that should be coating the pan surface.
  7. Allow the wine to boil away (reduce) until it's kind of syrupy and coats the other ingredients.
  8. Add the beef stock, carrots and thyme, stir, and reduce heat to a slow simmer.
  9. Simmer the stew for about 30-45 minutes, or until beef is fork tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  10. Make a beurre manie by mashing together the butter and flour with a fork until it has a mealy consistency.
  11. About 10-15 minutes before serving, stir the beurre manie into the stew to thicken the stock.
  12. Serve hot, accompanied by fresh bread and good butter.
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