Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, dear readers! Hope everyone had a peaceful, joy-filled holiday season and start to the new year. Since I’ve had kids I start every year with the same two feelings. First, confusion as to where the time has gone. Wasn’t it like a hot minute ago that I pick the kids up from their last day of school before winter break? I blinked and Christmas and New Years were over. Second, dear god, this winter break has lasted forever. Are they ever going back to school?? Please say yes, because if I have to entertain them for one more day I will lose my mind.
Completely inconsistent feelings? For sure. Both totally valid? Also yes. Isn’t that one of the crazy things about being a parent (or even just an adult)? You can hold two completely inconsistent feelings at the same time and they’re both valid.
Putting that aside, for a moment travel back with me to Christmas Eve. Our family tradition is usually that my father makes a beef tenderloin for dinner. And, bless his heart, he has a deathly fear of undercooking meat. Not sure why (maybe its an Irish thing?) but there it is.
So every Christmas Eve he cooks the tenderloin for the recommended amount of time and then decides it needs “just 5 minutes more.” Every family member will tell him the meat’s cook enough but he’s too nervous to chance it.
Which means when the meat makes it to the table there’s nary of whisper of pink. Cooked through entirely. My father always says the same thing: “Shoot. I should have taken it out five minutes earlier.”
This scene is repeated the next Christmas Eve. My dad’s only saving grace is that he’s serving other Irish-American who have all been trained to eat well done meat and not complain.
This year instead of being at my parents’ house my sister was hosting Christmas Eve for the first time. About a week before she texted me asking if I’d help her cook. I texted back “no problem” because (a) I’m always happy to help and (b) the best dish she makes is scrambled eggs. It was an act of charity really though I’m sure my sister would try to convince you otherwise. Don’t listen to her.
Then I immediately began to ponder whether I could put a spin on my dad’s tenderloin. You know, without the overcooking.
Thinking about a holiday-worthy beef dish (especially one where overcooking is not a risk!) reminded me of one of my favorite French dishes: beef bourguignon. For those who haven’t had it think beef stew on steroids. At first deceptive glance beef bourguignon seems simple like a stew. And it is in the sense that there’s no crazy ingredients or strange cooking techniques.
But that’s where the similarities end. This dish has flavor for days. The sauce is an amazing blend of red wine, beef stock and herbs (oh, and did I mention bacon? ‘Cause bacon. ‘Nuff said.). The vegetables are hearty and filling not mushy or muddled in flavor as in many stews. Finally, the meat is the star. It’s left to cook slow and low for hours. By the time this dish reaches the table it’s fork tender. Keep the knives in the drawer. They’re not needed.
For this recipe I adapted a Julia Child’s classic. That’s not to say I think I can make something better than Julia Child. I’m not that out of touch with reality. Instead, I stream lined it a bit. Made it a bit more “close enough” without sacrificing on flavor. No need to thank me. My laziness is your gain.
I made this beef bourguignon for a special occasion and you can certainly do the same. But if you are already starting to suffer from the January doldrums (It’s recognized medical condition. Look it up.) invite a few friends over on a grey Sunday and make this. I promise all those grumpy feeling will disappear as this bourguignon warms you from the inside out. All without you ever having to worry about whether the meat cooked five minutes too long . . .
My take on Julia Child’s beef bourguignon includes all the elements that make this dish a French classic – tender melt in your mouth beef with hearty veggies in a delicious red wine sauce. It takes all the best parts of a beef stew and elevates it to a show stopper. Whether you make it for a fancy dinner party or just a slow rainy Sunday this beef bourguignon is perfect for every occasion. Serve it over noodles or mashed potatoes along with some good crusty bread for sopping every last drop of amazing sauce.
Adapted from Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
8 ounces thick cut bacon rough chopped
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds round roast beef or other lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds
2 small onions, diced
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour (or corn starch if you want the bourguignon to be gluten free)
3 1/2 cups red wine
2 1/2 – 3 1/2 cups beef stock
3 tablespoon tomato paste
5 cloves mashed garlic
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
26–30 pearl onions
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pound mushrooms, washed and quartered
Parsley to garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a dutch oven or similar large ovensafe pot over moderate heat.
Saute chopped bacon for 2 to 3 minutes or until browned. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
Dry beef cubes with paper towels. Salt and pepper to taste. Increase temperature to high heat and add beef to remaining fat a few cubes at a time being careful to avoid splatter.
Cook beef until browned on all sides. Remove beef and set aside.
In the same fat, cook the carrots and diced onion until tender crisp. Pour out any excess fat.
Return the beef and bacon to pot. Salt and pepper to taste. Lower temperature to medium high.
Sprinkle in flour and stir to coat. Cook for 1-2 minutes stirring occasionally.
Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups beef stock, just enough so that the meat is covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic and thyme sprigs. Bring to a simmer. Salt and Pepper to taste.
Cover pot and place in oven. Allow to simmer for 3-4 hours regulating the oven temperature as needed to maintain slow simmer. Remove from oven when meat is easily pierced with a fork.
While beef is in oven begin to prepare the pearl onions and mushrooms.
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil over medium high heat until bubbling in a large skillet.
Add pearl onions and saute for about 10 minutes or until onions begin to brown, stirring occasionally but being careful not to break the onions’ skin.
Add 1/2 cup of stock, salt and pepper to taste and 1 sprig thyme. Cover and simmer until onions are tender and the liquid has largely evaporated (approx. 40-50 minutes). Remove thyme sprig and set aside.
While pearl onions simmer, in another large skillet heat remaining oil and butter on high heat until bubbles begin to subside.
Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms begin to brown (approx. 4-5 minutes). Stir or toss occasionally.
When meat is done simmering remove from oven and add cooked mushrooms and pearl onions.
Place dutch oven on stove top and simmer over medium low heat until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon lightly.** Skim off any fat as needed and remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with chopped parsley if desired and serve.
*If you prefer not to use a second skillet wipe out the skillet used to cook pearl onions and use that to cook the mushrooms.
**If sauce becomes too thick add several tablespoons of beef stock to thin.