julia child’s boeuf bourguignon

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I wanted winey beef stew. I knew there were easier recipes out there, and maybe even better recipes, but Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon is a bucket list recipe for me. I guess sometimes I can’t resist using every pot and skillet I own just to make one dish.

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But it was worth it for one single thing I learned from this recipe: how to enjoy pearl onions. The French seem to love using them in their fancy braises, but I’ve never liked their texture in the coq au vin or other beef burgundy recipes I’ve tried. Instead of the quick saute most recipes call for, Julia braises them in broth for almost an hour. At the end, they’re meltingly tender – okay, maybe they’re mushy. But that’s a lot better than the feeling that there are crunchy eyeballs in my stew. They also soak up meaty flavor from the broth, which doesn’t hurt matters.

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Other than that, the stew was very good, but probably not any better than my favorite pot roast recipe. Am I allowed to say that about one of Julia Child’s most famous recipes? It’s not that it wasn’t good, because I always really enjoy braising beef in wine. It’s just that I also enjoy using one pot for that braise. But now I can check this one off the bucket list, and that, plus those soft pearl onions, makes this a win.

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Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

Serves 4

I liked the onions a lot, but I would have preferred the mushrooms cooked until they were drier and browner.

6 ounces (about 6 slices) bacon, sliced ¼-inch thick
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
3 pounds chuck roast, trimmed, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 large or 2 small carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium onion, diced
ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 (750-liter) bottle medium red wine, such as pinot noir, cotes du rhone, or chianti
2 cups beef broth, plus ½ cup to cook the onions
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons butter, divided
24 pearl onions, peeled (or frozen)
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 small bay leaf
4 sprigs parsley, plus more for garnish
1 pound mushrooms, halved or quartered in large

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the bacon and 6 cups of water to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and dry the bacon. In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon until it’s slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pot, leaving the rendered fat in the pot; set the bacon aside.

2. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pot with the bacon fat and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking. Season the beef generously with salt. Add half of the beef in a single layer, leaving space between each piece. Cook without moving until the bottom side is browned, about 2 minutes. Rotate each piece, searing and rotating until all sides are browned. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining beef.

3. Add the carrots and diced onion to the pot and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Return the beef and bacon to the pot with the vegetables; add 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper; stir to combine. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture; stir to evenly distribute the flour. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for 4 minutes. Stir, then cook in the oven for an additional 4 minutes. Transfer the Dutch oven back to the stove. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

4. Add the wine and 2 cups of broth to the pot with the beef and vegetables. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven, and cook until the meat is tender, 2½ to 3 hours, stirring about once an hour.

5. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the pearl onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re browned. Add ½ cup of broth, the thyme, bay leaf, parsley, and a generous sprinkling of salt, then cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the onions are very tender, about 40 minutes. If there is any liquid left in the pan at this point, let it evaporate. Set aside.

6. In a medium skillet over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons butter and the oil. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until they are lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

7. Remove the Dutch oven from the oven. Strain the liquid into a separate saucepan, returning the beef and bacon to the Dutch oven or a serving dish. Add the mushrooms and onions to the beef. Skim the liquid in the saucepan of fat and simmer until it’s reduced to about 2½ cups and is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Pour the reduced sauce over the meat and vegetables. Serve, topped with minced parsley.

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