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 wonderful dish any time you have a craving for rich beef simmered in red wine.
For around $4.50 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 very expensive (and absolutely 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, 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 Joes and $5 at Aldi for wine, respectively, and the results were exceptional. This recipe, which serves 6 generously, comes in at around $27, or $4.50 per serving.
First, let's talk about the 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 tough 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 flavor, wonderful and rich. The more carefully you brown your beef, the better the favor of the finished dish.
Julia suggested a red Burgundy, but any medium-bodied dry red wine will do. As I stated earlier, I always look at Trader Joe’s for a reasonably priced Pinot Noir. But you can find a good inexpensive Pinot at Aldi, Walmart, Costco or many other outlets. Cost is the bottom-line here: do not overspend on your cooking wine. But cheaper wine isn’t always acceptable--if you wouldn’t sit and drink a glass, don’t use it in cooking either. But a $75 Pinot Noir from a fashionable Northern California winery would be a waste of money in this dish.
You will need 6 oz of some type of 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 beef. Lots of American cooks choose to use bacon, although I personally find that the smoky flavor muddles and diminishes this dish. Julia's answer to this 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 have access to pork belly at a reasonable price, by all means go for that.
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 (especially if you use commercial beef broth, which is also salty) until after the dish has cooked for a couple hours. You may not need to use any further salt. And careful with the salt if you need to reduce the sauce after cooking the meat in the oven - as it reduces, it becomes saltier.
The Vegetables and Herbs.
The vegetables and herbs in this recipe can produce a huge 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 is $1.98 at Walmart, and is enough for 2 batches, so you can save half for later.
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 typical 1/2 pound box of the white or brown variety available at almost any grocery store. Look for uniform sized mushrooms, which can be cut in quarters for a bite size peice. Herbs can also be a big 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 growing mom your own little herb garden. Whatever you chose, do make sure you have fresh parsley and thyme for this dish - it makes all the difference.
The incidental ingredients in this dish can produce another budget-busting expense, but cooks who plan ahead 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.
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 - simply buy a 4-pack of unsalted butter and put 3 boxes in the freezer (butter freezes perfectly) and thaw as you continue to use it. In this way, you will never have to buy cheap butter or pay too much at your regular grocery. Similarly, try to buy beef broth by the case at Sam’s Cub or Costco. It is also a good idea to buy your olive oil this way - Sam's sells a very good olive oil. Just keep extra in a dark cool place so it doesn't turn or go rancid before you use it.
There just aren't a lot of ways to mess up this dish, as Julia herself emphasized when she cooked it on The French Chef. But it will be successful if you fail to dry the beef before browning it, or if you grossly overcook it. Begin checking the dish after two hours in the oven to see if it is fork tender and once your meat reaches this level of fineness, then 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 and strain the remaining sauce into a saucepan and gently simmer it until it has reduced and become thick. Don't boil it vigorously or it might become bitter. And if it still doesn't become thick, you can try to thicken it with a butter and flour paste or a cornstarch slurry. But first, try a few minutes on simmer. As long as you have used flour after your initial browning of meat, the dish should thicken up beautifully. 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 1 1/2-inch cubes ($14.00, Walmart)
1 large white onion, roughly cut
1 large carrot, thick sliced
2 T flour
1 bottle (about 3 cups) 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
2 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)
1 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)
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered ($2, Walmart)
Salt and pepper to taste
If you are using bacon, you may wish to simmer your bacon lardons for 10 minutes to reduce the smokiness. If you are using salt pork or pork belly, skip this step.
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.
2. Dry your beef with paper towels and sear the beef in the pork fat. Do this in batches and do not crowd your beef. As it browns, remove and set aside the bacon/pork.
3. Add the sliced carrots and onions, and brown in the fat. At this point, you should have very little fat in your Dutch oven. If there is excess, drain it out now.
4. Add the bacon and beef to the Dutch oven and sprinkle with salt and pepper lightly. 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 temperature of the oven to 325.
5. 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 at a slow simmer in the oven as well.
6. Let your dish simmer in the oven for at least 2 hours and as much as 3. Start checking if your beef is done around 2 hours. When it is fork tender, it is done - remove the dish from the oven and place on stovetop.
7. During 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 both 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. Turn off heat, retrieve and throw away the herbs and set aside.
8. 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.
9. 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 as much as half. If you reduce it and it still won’t thicken, you can thicken it with either a butter and flour paste or with a cornstarch slurry. The best procedure, however, is just to simmer the sauce until it thickens naturally.
10. From the colander, use a tong to pull out beef and pork lardons. At this stage, your dish will be neater if you throw away the simmering vegetables. 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.
11. I wash out the Dutch oven as I have a rustic one which looks beautiful for presentation. After washing it, put the beef and lardons back into the Dutch oven and put in the pearl onions and mushrooms and pour the hot sauce over them. You now have a completed beef bourguignon.
12. This dish keeps beautifully and actually get better, in my opinion, in the refrigerator overnight. Just reheat and serve with new potatoes.
If you are limiting carbs, this dish is actually fairly 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 is limiting carbs, you might wish to serve pureed cauliflower instead of potatoes - it delicious and healthy!