How to Make Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon
Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon

Doesn’t the mere sound of the name Beef Bourguignon conjure up the notion that it is some exotic dish you would expect to find in a French bistro?  Guess what?  You can easily make this classic French cuisine dish at home! Simple ingredients, economical cuts of beef, and time are all that is required.

Braising

Made with basic ingredients, what makes Beef Bourguignon so wonderful is the cooking method known as braising.  Used in many recipes, braising is simply using a long, slow, moist heat method of cooking tougher cuts of meat in a liquid such as red wine and/or beef stock to tenderize the meat.

This method of cooking is great to use for cuts of meat known to be on the tougher side because the combination of moist heat, low cooking temperature, lengthy cooking time, and a flavorful liquid breaks down the connective tissues (collagen) in the meat, melting it into a silky gelatin. This results in divinely tender and succulent meat that will easily break apart with a fork.

Cuts of meat suitable for braising are cuts of muscular meats like chuck or beef cheeks, for example.  These cuts from the highly exercised parts of the animal are ones known to have lots of collagen that, like magic, when cooked long and slow, turn tough cuts of meat into soft gelatin that will break apart with the touch of a fork. If you don’t need a knife to cut the meat, you have yourself a dandy Beef Bourguignon!  Using more premium cuts of beef will not become more fork tender than the cheaper cuts in this dish so, save your money, and buy the economical cuts.

Braising can be done on the cooktop over low heat but oven braising will provide more even heating and will reduce the risk of burning the meat.  Braising on the stovetop will result in more heat directly hitting the bottom of the pot specifically as opposed to oven braising where the heat is more evenly distributed to all sides of the cooking vessel.

Beef Bourguignon is not difficult to make but there are several steps involved and some time has to be dedicated to it.  It’s not a dish you would start for dinner after arriving home from work at 5:00pm.

There are many versions of this dish and various ways in which to prepare it.  What follows is the method that works well for me.

Choosing the Meat

Both pork and beef are used in this dish.

Pork

Pork lardons add a lovely texture and layer of flavour richness to Beef Bourguignon..  Lardon is another name for thick, fatty salt pork, much thicker than the thin bacon strips found, pre-packaged, in supermarkets.  While the lardons, themselves, lend wonderful texture and flavor to the dish, it is their rendered fat that is prized for the rich flavour it gives to the beef as it is seared before it is braised.

Lardons
Pork Lardons

I recommend using the lardons over the thin bacon because the thickness of the lardons allows them to keep their shape when fried.  You may need to go directly to a butcher shop (as opposed to a standard supermarket) to get the lardons.  I went to a local butcher, KJL Meats, here in Charlottetown and, as soon as I said what I was making, the butcher knew exactly what I was looking for and he actually cut the lardons into suitably-sized chunks for me!

The lardons are cooked until the fat in them has been rendered out. That flavorful fat is then used to sear the beef, keeping all the wonderful flavor in the dish.

Lardons
Pork Lardons

Beef

 As mentioned, one of the best things about Beef Bourguignon is that economical cuts of beef are used.  My preference is to use beef cheeks for this recipe though chuck also works very well.  Some marbling in the meat is also beneficial as the slow cooking process will melt the fat and turn it into a melt-in-your-mouth gelatin. The transformation is absolutely amazing!

To get exactly what I want for meat, I go directly to a local butcher – it’s local PEI beef and it’s fresh.  The meat in the photographs came from MacQuarrie’s Meats in Milton, on the outskirts of Charlottetown. Depending on where you live and what your local butchers keep on hand, you may need to pre-order specific cuts, such as beef cheeks, from your local butcher.

Beef Cheeks
Beef Cheeks

If there happens to be any excess hard fat or tendons still visible on the meat, remove them.  Pat the meat dry with paper towel – this will help the cornstarch or flour stick to the meat when it is dredged before being seared.  Season the meat with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Beef Cheeks
Beef Cheeks cut for Beef Bourguignon

Cut the meat into rather large chunks – approximately 2” pieces.  This is meant to be a rustic dish and cutting the meat any smaller may cause the meat to dry out faster and it won’t have the same presentation as if the chunks are larger.  Once the meat is dredged in the cornstarch or flour, sear it over medium-high heat in the lardon fat.

Searing Beef for Beef Bourguignon
Searing Beef for Beef Bourguignon

Searing the meat before simmering it in the cooking liquid is known as brown braising. This will add depth of flavour as the meat caramelizes while a brown crust forms on the beef. This ‘browning” will not only add flavor but it will help produce a rich brown sauce.  Don’t try to speed up the process by over-crowding all the meat pieces into the pan at once.  Work in batches and leave some space between the chunks of meat so they brown nicely. The aim of this process is to sear the meat, not steam it or cook it all the way through.

Searing Beef for Beef Bourguignon
Searing Beef for Beef Bourguignon

Making the Bouquet Garni

Fresh herbs really do make the difference in this dish. You will need two to three sprigs each of fresh thyme and parsley along with two dried bay leaves.  These are easily tied together with kitchen string/twine.  Insert 4 whole cloves into the center of a 6” strip of celery and tie the herbs to the celery.  This bouquet will get dropped into the braising liquid to flavour it as the meat cooks.

Bouquet Garni
Bouquet Garni

When the Bourguignon is cooked, the bouquet garni is removed and discarded.

Preparing the Braising Liquid

Once the meat has been seared, there will be caramelized brown bits (known as fond) left in the pan.  This bears wonderful flavour and will help to color the braising liquid.  Deglaze the pan with either red wine, brandy, or beef stock, scraping up the flavorful brown bits. I find the brandy adds a layer of flavour complexity, richness, and depth to this dish.

Some basic aromatics always form a good basis for any braising dish.  Cook some coarsely chopped onion in some olive oil and butter.  Butter (which gives fabulous flavour) tends to burn easily which causes some flavour deterioration.  Olive oil, however, does not burn so quickly so heating it first then adding the butter prevents the butter from burning and yet still gives the dish some buttery flavour.  Add some garlic and just a bit of tomato paste and then, of course the red wine which, next to the beef, is the signature ingredient in Beef Bourguignon. It’s really not Beef Bourguignon if there is no red wine in this dish!

The acidic properties in the red wine not only add flavour to the dish but, importantly, soften muscle fibres and generate melt-in-your-mouth quality meat.  I recommend using a dry red wine. While technically any dry red wine will work in this dish, I like to use a Pinot Noir that has earthy notes to it – it tends to be a wine that goes well with all sorts of red meat.  There is no need to go with the best wine on the market for this dish but I do suggest using one you would be prepared to drink. When I am pairing a wine to drink with Beef Bourguignon, I use the same wine at the table as has been used in the Bourguignon.  Don’t use a supermarket “cooking wine” for Beef Bourguignon.  No, just don’t do it!

Beef Bourguignon
Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon

Slowly boiling the wine for 4-5 minutes will burn off the raw alcohol.  This dish is not meant to reek of the wine; rather, the role of the wine is, yes, partly to flavour the sauce in a good way but, more importantly, to tenderize the meat.

Any beef stock can be used in this dish, either homemade (click here for my recipe) or purchased.  Adding the beef stock (as opposed to only using wine), adds a layer of flavour.  In my opinion, using only wine would make the resulting sauce too strong.  If the first taste I get from Beef Bourguignon is a heavy wine taste, that tells me too much wine was used in the braising liquid. The hallmark of a well-prepared dish is the subtle layers of flavours that build the overall flavour profile and one flavour should not dominate the others in a negative way.

With braising, the braising liquid should not entirely cover the meat; rather, it should cover no more than about one-half to two-thirds of the meat. If you “swim” the meat, that’s a stew and, unlike with the braising method, tough cuts of meat will not tenderize using a stewing method. In addition, adding too much liquid will dilute the sauce and flavour.  It’s also important that the braising liquid just simmer, not boil. Check the Bourguignon as it braises.  If it is actively bubbling/vigorously boiling, reduce the oven temperature.

Keep the pot covered tightly to keep the moist heat in. Otherwise, the braising liquid will evaporate and the meat will be subject to some drying. Dutch ovens are often used for braising because they have the width for the contents to evenly cook and they have tight fitting covers. Other cooking vessels with tight-fitting lids, such as a high-sided casserole dish, will work equally well.  The important thing is to use a vessel that allows the sauce to surround, not completely submerge, the meat.

There are many schools of thought on what the “correct” braising temperature should be.  I am not sure there is one. My preference is around 275°F.  The aim is to keep the braising liquid from actively boiling because the premise behind braising is to let the meat cook very slowly allowing it to tenderize.  High temperatures can result in dryer meat. Additionally, since my recipe calls for a starch thickener for the braising liquid, a high cooking temperature will break down the starch causing it to lose its thickening power resulting in a watery thin sauce.  As a general rule of thumb, or frame of reference, the sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Vegetables

Beef Bourguignon does not contain a lot of vegetables, or varieties of vegetables.  Typically, it only has carrots, mushrooms, and either tiny pearl onions or shallots.  It’s all about the beef in this dish and the other additions serve only as flavour contributors that, themselves, absorb the wonderful savory flavours in the braising liquid.  There are enough vegetables in the Bourguignon, however, that it generally is not necessary to add a side of vegetables (except perhaps mashed potatoes) to serve with the Bourguignon.

 Beef Bourguignon
Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon

Serving Suggestions

My favorite way to serve Beef Bourguignon is with whipped mashed potatoes seasoned with butter and garlic. The wonderfully rich sauce from the Bourguignon pairs very well with the potatoes.

Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon Served with Whipped Garlic Seasoned Mashed Potatoes
Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon Served with Whipped Garlic Seasoned Mashed Potatoes

Beef Bourguignon can also be served on, or with, plain toast or garlic bread which can be used to soak up the flavorful sauce. You want to capture every last bite of this delectable sauce!

 Beef Bourguignon
Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon

 

This dish freezes well and is part of my batch cooking repertoire.  It reheats well in the microwave.

Beef Bourguignon
Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon

The recipe for Beef Bourguignon may look a bit complicated but it really is not if the process is organized.  Read through the recipe and plan your work and you can produce restaurant-quality food at home.  Measure out all the ingredients and do all the chopping and ingredient preparation before beginning the actual cooking.

[Printable recipe follows at end of post]

Beef Bourguignon

Ingredients:

For the bouquet garni:
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh parsley
2 large dried bay leaves
4 whole cloves
6” piece of celery rib

2 tsp olive oil
7 oz bacon lardons, cut into chunks approximately ¼“ – 1/3“ thick x 1” long

1½ – 2 lbs beef cheeks or beef chuck
3 tbsp cornstarch or flour
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

1½ tbsp brandy (or red wine)

1 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp butter
½ cup onion, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 2/3 cup dry red wine
1½ cups warm beef stock

1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
2 – 2½ tbsp beef stock (or water)

1 tbsp butter
½ tbsp olive oil
12 oz baby carrots
8 – 10 small shallots or pearl onions

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
8 oz small button mushrooms, halved or quartered (depending on size of mushrooms)
½ cup dry red wine

Method:

Make a bouquet garni consisting of 3 sprigs each of fresh thyme and parsley tied with kitchen string/twine along with 2 large bay leaves.  Insert 4 whole cloves into center of a 6” piece of celery rib. Tie the herbs and bay leaves to the celery rib. Set aside.

Heat 2 tsp olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the bacon lardons.  Cook over medium-low heat for approximately 12-15 minutes, until lardons are crisp and brown and the fat has been rendered from the lardons.  Remove the lardons with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towel-lined bowl or plate. Reserve the rendered fat in the pan.

Pat beef dry with paper towel. Season the beef with salt and pepper and cut into chunks approximately 2” in size, removing any excess fat, tendons, and sinew.

Place the cornstarch or flour and the sea salt and pepper into small plastic bag.  Shake well to mix.  Set aside.

Increase the heat under the sauté pan containing the lardon fat to medium-high.  Working in small batches, two to three chunks at a time, dredge the beef chunks in the cornstarch or flour mixture, shaking off any excess.  Place the beef chunks in the hot pan, leaving space between each chunk.  Sear the meat.  Using tongs, turn the meat to brown all sides.  Do not overcook – just cook long enough to brown the beef, a minute or two per side.  Transfer the seared meat to a 4-quart Dutch oven, casserole dish, or small roaster.

Preheat oven to 275°F.

Deglaze the sauté pan in which the beef was seared using either 1½ tbsp brandy, red wine, or beef stock scraping up any caramelized brown bits remaining in the pan after the meat was seared.  Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil then the ½ tablespoon of butter.  Add the chopped onions and, over medium heat and stirring constantly, sauté until the onions begin to become translucent.  Add the tomato paste and chopped garlic and stir to prevent burning, about 20-30 seconds.

Add 1 2/3 cups red wine to the onion-garlic mixture.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil then immediately reduce heat to a slow boil.  Boil slowly for 4-5 minutes to boil off the raw alcohol in the wine.  Add the beef stock.  Cook over low heat 2-3 minutes. Stir in half of the bacon lardons, reserving the remainder.

Transfer the onion, wine, beef stock, and lardon mixture to the casserole containing the seared meat.  Add the prepared bouquet garni, pressing it gently into the braising liquid. The liquid should cover approximately one-half to two-thirds of the meat.  Place lid on casserole dish and transfer it to the preheated oven and cook for about 2½ hours.  If the braising liquid is still very thin at the 2½ hour point, add about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or flour whisked together with 2 – 2½ tablespoons water or beef stock and some of the hot braising liquid to temper the mixture.  Stir into braising liquid gently. Regardless whether additional thickening agent is added, return the casserole to oven to cook for 30 more minutes, or until meat is tender to the touch of a fork.

Meanwhile, add 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter to a clean sauté pan placed over medium high heat.  Add the carrots and whole shallots or pearl onions.  Stir fry for about 5 minutes until the carrots are slightly beginning to soften and both the carrots and onions are lightly tanned with color.  Add the stir-fried vegetables to the meat casserole.  Return the lid to the casserole and continue slow cooking for approximately 20 minutes.  After the 20 minutes, if the braising liquid still does not coat the back of a spoon, add an additional ½ to 1 tablespoon cornstarch or flour mixed with 2 tablespoons beef stock or water and a little hot braising liquid, whisked together.

In clean sauté pan, over medium-high heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter.  Add the mushrooms and stir fry for 2 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add the remaining lardons.  Stir fry for 2-3 minutes longer then reduce heat to medium-low and add ½ cup red wine. Cook for 4-5 minutes longer at a very slow boil.  Transfer mixture to the casserole and cook for 45 minutes longer, or until carrots are cooked and the beef breaks apart easily with the light pressure from a fork. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.  Serve with whipped garlic potatoes, toasted French bread, or a crusty bread.

Yield:  Apx. 8 servings

Beef Bourguignon

One of the best French classic dishes, Beef Bourguignon is made with beef, pork, carrots, onions, and mushrooms all braised and slow cooked in a rich red wine and beef stock sauce
Course Main Course
Cuisine French
Keyword Beef Bourguignon
Servings 8
Author My Island Bistro Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 large dried bay leaves
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 6 ” piece of celery rib
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 7 oz bacon lardons, cut into chunks approximately ¼“ – 1/3“ thick x 1” long
  • 1½ - 2 lbs beef cheeks or beef chuck
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • tbsp brandy, or red wine
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tbsp butter
  • ½ cup onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • cups warm beef stock
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • 2 – 2½ tbsp beef stock, or water
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 12 oz baby carrots
  • 8 – 10 small shallots or pearl onions
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 8 oz small button mushrooms, halved or quartered (depending on size of mushrooms)
  • ½ cup dry red wine

Instructions

  1. Make a bouquet garni consisting of 3 sprigs each of fresh thyme and parsley tied with kitchen string/twine along with 2 large bay leaves. Insert 4 whole cloves into center of a 6” piece of celery rib. Tie the herbs and bay leaves to the celery rib. Set aside.
  2. Heat 2 tsp olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon lardons. Cook over medium-low heat for approximately 12-15 minutes, until lardons are crisp and brown and the fat has been rendered from the lardons. Remove the lardons with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towel-lined bowl or plate. Reserve the rendered fat in the pan.
  3. Pat beef dry with paper towel. Season the beef with salt and pepper and cut into chunks approximately 2” in size, removing any excess fat, tendons, and sinew.
  4. Place the cornstarch or flour and the sea salt and pepper into small plastic bag. Shake well to mix. Set aside.
  5. Increase the heat under the sauté pan containing the lardon fat to medium-high. Working in small batches, two to three chunks at a time, dredge the beef chunks in the cornstarch or flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Place the beef chunks in the hot pan, leaving space between each chunk. Sear the meat. Using tongs, turn the meat to brown all sides. Do not overcook – just cook long enough to brown the beef, a minute or two per side. Transfer the seared meat to a 4-quart Dutch oven, casserole dish, or small roaster.
  6. Preheat oven to 275°F.
  7. Deglaze the sauté pan in which the beef was seared using either 1½ tbsp brandy, red wine, or beef stock scraping up any caramelized brown bits remaining in the pan after the meat was seared. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil then the ½ tablespoon of butter. Add the chopped onions and, over medium heat and stirring constantly, sauté until the onions begin to become translucent. Add the tomato paste and chopped garlic and stir to prevent burning, about 20-30 seconds.
  8. Add 1 2/3 cups red wine to the onion-garlic mixture. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil then immediately reduce heat to a slow boil. Boil slowly for 4-5 minutes to boil off the raw alcohol in the wine. Add the beef stock. Cook over low heat 2-3 minutes. Stir in half of the bacon lardons, reserving the remainder.
  9. Transfer the onion, wine, beef stock, and lardon mixture to the casserole containing the seared meat. Add the prepared bouquet garni, pressing it gently into the braising liquid. The liquid should cover approximately one-half to two-thirds of the meat. Place lid on casserole dish and transfer it to the preheated oven and cook for about 2½ hours. If the braising liquid is still very thin at the 2½ hour point, add about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or flour whisked together with 2 – 2½ tablespoons water or beef stock and some of the hot braising liquid to temper the mixture. Stir into braising liquid gently. Regardless whether additional thickening agent is added, return the casserole to oven to cook for 30 more minutes, or until meat is tender to the touch of a fork.
  10. Meanwhile, add 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter to a clean sauté pan placed over medium high heat. Add the carrots and whole shallots or pearl onions. Stir fry for about 5 minutes until the carrots are slightly beginning to soften and both the carrots and onions are lightly tanned with color. Add the stir-fried vegetables to the meat casserole. Return the lid to the casserole and continue slow cooking for approximately 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes, if the braising liquid still does not coat the back of a spoon, add an additional ½ to 1 tablespoon cornstarch or flour mixed with 2 tablespoons beef stock or water and a little hot braising liquid, whisked together.
  11. In clean sauté pan, over medium-high heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add the mushrooms and stir fry for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add the remaining lardons. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes longer then reduce heat to medium-low and add ½ cup red wine. Cook for 4-5 minutes longer at a very slow boil. Transfer mixture to the casserole and cook for 45 minutes longer, or until carrots are cooked and the beef breaks apart easily with the light pressure from a fork. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Serve with whipped garlic potatoes, toasted French bread, or a crusty bread.

Recipe Notes

Yield: Apx. 8 servings

 

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Beef Bourguignon
Bistro Style Beef Bourguignon

 

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