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Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon: A French Classic on a Budget

It's hard to improve on a classic, but there are budget strategies that allow you to serve this incredible dish any time you have a craving for rich beef simmered in red wine.

Serving of Beef Bourguignon
Beef Bourguignon
For around $5 per serving, this French classic is easy to prepare and impressive to serve.

When I first made this recipe thirty years ago, I spared no expense, including a costly (and unnecessary) bottle of Burgundy wine. In truth, American Pinot Noirs (the equivalent of a red French Burgundy) are so good, and many are so inexpensive that it is easy and cheap to find a bottle ideal for this recipe. The last two times I made Beef Bourguignon, I spent $7 at Trader Joe's and $5 at Aldi for wine, respectively, and the results were exceptional. This recipe serves six generously and comes at around $27, or $4.50 per serving.


The Beef

First, let's talk about beef. This is a braised stew - a fine cut of meat would be wasted on this dish. I always start the way Julia did - with a nice beef chuck roast. Cut the beef cubes yourself and look for fat and marbling through your meat. At Walmart, it was the cheaper version of two styles of Chuck Roast that provided the best option. Look for some white in your meat, and it's okay if there are tendons or other challenging parts. They will be heavenly after simmering in red wine until fork tender. Do carefully dry your beef so it will brown readily, and do not rush through this step. The brown crust on your meat cubes is flavorful and rich. The more carefully you brown your beef, the better the flavor of the finished dish.

Ingredients Julia's Been Bourguignon
Beef Bourguignon Ingredients

The Wine

Julia suggested a red Burgundy, but any medium-bodied dry red wine will do. Look for an inexpensive Pinot Noir. Cost is the bottom line: do not overspend on your cooking wine. But remember that cheaper wine isn't always acceptable--if you don't sit and drink a glass, don't use it in cooking. But a $75 Pinot Noir from a fashionable Northern California winery would waste money in this dish.


The Pork

You will need 6 oz of some pork, which you will sauté to render out pork fat for browning the beef. The pork also provides delicious little bits in the sauce that contrast with the flavor of the meat. Lots of American cooks choose to use bacon, although I find that the smoky flavor muddles and diminishes this dish. Julia's answer is to boil the small slices (called lardons) briefly in water to remove the smokey flavor. Julia cautioned about using salt pork because of the saltiness and preferred to use uncured, unsmoked pork belly, as French cooks do. If you can afford a pork belly, go for that.

Salt Pork
Unsmoked Salt Pork

Costco sells pork belly at a reasonable price, as does Wild Fork Foods. I will typically use salt pork, and my only caution is to refrain from salting the dish (primarily if you use commercial beef broth, which is also salty) until after the dish has been cooked for a couple of hours. You may not need to use any further salt. And be careful with the salt if you need to reduce the sauce after cooking the meat in the oven - as it thickens, it becomes saltier.



Vegetables and Herbs.


The vegetables and herbs in this recipe can be a vast and often overlooked expense. Fresh pearl onions cost around $3. But you may not need to use fresh, as a large bag of frozen pearl onions sells for $1.98 at Walmart and is enough for two batches so that you can save half for later.

Pearl Onions Beef Bourguignon
Sauteing Pearl Onions

The results using frozen pearl onions are often better, as the fresh onions are not as uniform and can be old. For mushrooms, it is best to use a typical one-half-pound box of the white or brown variety available at almost any grocery store. Look for uniform-sized mushrooms, which can be cut into quarters for a bite-sized piece. Herbs can also be a significant expense, but Walmart sells a bunch of flat-leafed parsley for under $1 and fresh thyme for under $2. This expense can be avoided by raising a little herb garden. Whatever you choose, make sure you have fresh parsley and thyme for this dish - it makes all the difference.


Other

The incidental ingredients in this dish can produce another budget-busting expense, but cooks who plan can avoid this. One secret for frugal cooks is to buy a tube of tomato paste and keep it in the refrigerator for times when you don't need a whole can.

Tomato Paste from Tube
Tomato Paste

I always have a tube in my fridge. As dairy prices rise, another secret to keeping costs down is buying butter in bulk at Costco or Sam's - buy a 4-pack of unsalted butter, put three boxes in the freezer (butter freezes perfectly), and thaw as you continue to use it. This way, you will never have to buy cheap butter or pay too much at your regular grocery. Similarly, try to purchase beef broth by the case at Sam's Cub or Costco. Buying olive oil this way is also a good idea - Sam's sells perfect olive oil. Keep it extra in a dark, cool place so it doesn't turn or go rancid before you use it.


Techniques

There aren't many ways to mess up this dish, as Julia herself emphasized when she cooked it on The French Chef. But it will not be successful if you fail to dry the beef before browning it or if you grossly overcook it. After checking the dish in the oven to see if it is fork tender, once your meat reaches this level of fineness, stop the cooking process. The beef will become tough and dry if you continue. You may also find that the sauce is thin and watery, but this is easily fixed after you take the beef from the oven. Remove the beef and pork, strain the remaining sauce into a saucepan, and gently simmer until it has reduced and becomes thick. Don't boil it vigorously, or it might become bitter. And if it still doesn't become thicker, you can try to thicken it with a butter and flour paste or a cornstarch slurry. But first, try a few minutes on simmer. The dish should thicken beautifully if you have used flour after your initial meat browning. If it gets too thick, add a little beef broth.


Beef Bourguignon (Beef Stew in Red Wine with Bacon, Mushrooms and Onions)

Section 1: List Your Ingredients

  • 6 oz salt pork, or pork belly or bacon, sliced into 1 x 1/4-inch lardons ($3, Walmart)

  • 1 T oil, preferably olive oil

  • 2-3 lbs. beef chuck roast, but into one 1/2-inch cubes ($14.00, Walmart)

  • One large white onion, roughly cut

  • One large carrot, thickly sliced

  • 2 T flour

  • One bottle (about 3 cups) of inexpensive medium-bodied dry red wine, such as Pinot Noir ($5, Aldi)

  • 2-3 c. of beef broth (0.70, Sam's Club)

  • 1 T tomato paste

  • Two cloves of garlic, smashed

  • A bouquet garni - or a couple springs of fresh thyme and fresh parsley tied together with a string ($1.00, Walmart)

  • One bay leaf crumbled

  • 1 1/2 T butter, plus 1 T oil (0.20, Sam's Club)

  • 12-24 pearl onions ($1, Walmart)

  • 1/2 c. beef broth

  • 2 T butter, plus 1 T oil ($0.20, Sam's Club)

  • Eight oz. mushrooms, quartered ($2, Walmart)

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. If you use bacon, you can simmer your bacon lardons for 10 minutes to reduce the smokiness. If you are using salt pork or pork belly, skip this step.

  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 T oil, and sauté the bacon/pork for 3-5 minutes, until it starts to brown and release its fat. Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Salt Pork for Bourguignon
Brown Salt Pork

3, Dry your beef with paper towels and sear the meat in the pork fat. Do this in batches, and do not crowd your beef. As it browns, remove and set aside the bacon/pork.

Brown beef for Bourguignon
Brown Cubed Beef

4. Add the sliced carrots and onions and brown them in the fat. At this point, there should be very little fat in your Dutch oven. If there is excess, drain it out now.


5. Add the bacon and beef to the Dutch oven and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 2 T of flour and toss—place in the center of the oven for 4 minutes. Toss and cook for an additional 4 minutes. Remove the Dutch oven to the stovetop and reduce the oven temperature to 325.

Beef Bourguignon brown flour.
Add bacon, browned beef and flour.

6. At this point, add the bottle of wine and just enough stock to cover the meat and vegetables. Add tomato paste, garlic, and the herb bouquet. Bring to a light simmer on the stove—cover, and place in the oven. Regulate heat so it's also at a slow simmer in the oven.

Simmer Beef Bourguignon
Add wine, stock, tomato paste, garlic and herbs and simmer.

7. Let your dish simmer in the oven for at least 2 hours and up to 3. Start checking if your beef is done in around 2 hours. When it is fork tender, it is done - remove the dish from the oven and place it on the stovetop.


8. During the last hour of cooking, heat 1 1/2 T butter and 1 T oil in a saucepan. Add the fresh or frozen pearl onions and brown in fat. Then add 1/2 c. of beef broth and a spring of parsley and thyme. Cook the onions and occasionally swirl in the pan. As the broth evaporates, you will be left with the onions and some fat in the bottom of the pan. If you used frozen pearl onions, they may not have browned well in the initial step, but they will brown now. Please turn off the heat, retrieve and throw away the herbs, and set them aside.

Prepare pearl onions beef bourguignon
Simmer pearl onions in broth with thyme and parsley.

9. In a sauté pan, heat 2 T butter and I T oil and brown the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan to coat the mushrooms with butter. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare mushrooms for beef bourguignon.
Sauté mushrooms in oil/butter.


10. Place a colander over a large saucepan. Drain the beef stew through the colander and into the saucepan. Place the saucepan over a burner at medium heat, skimming off any fat that rises to the top. Simmer the sauce until it becomes thick. Be patient; you may have to reduce the sauce by half. If you reduce it and it won't thicken, you can thicken it with either a butter and flour paste or a cornstarch slurry. The best procedure, however, is to simmer the sauce until it thickens naturally.


11. use a tong to pull out beef and pork lardons from the colander. Your dish will be neater if you throw away the simmering vegetables at this stage. I have noticed, however, that I see sliced carrots in many photos of beef bourguignon, and many cooks chose to retrieve and retain some of the carrots. Whether you do this is up to you.


12. I wash out the Dutch oven as I have a rustic one that looks beautiful for presentation. After washing it, put the beef and lardons back into the Dutch oven, set in the pearl onions and mushrooms, and pour the hot sauce over them. You now have a completed beef bourguignon.

Beef Bourguignon for less
Julia's Beef Bourguignon on a Budget


13. This dish keeps beautifully and gets better in the refrigerator overnight. Just reheat and serve with new potatoes.


14. Limiting carbs makes this dish relatively low carb, at 10-20 net carbs, depending on preparation. The photo below is of Beef Bourguignon served with pureed cauliflower. If someone in your world is on keto or limiting carbs, you might wish to serve pureed cauliflower instead of potatoes - delicious and healthy!


Julia's Beef Bourguignon with cauliflower
Lo Carb Beef Bourguignon


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