Beef Bourguignon

Cubes of beef braised in red wine until they're incredibly tender, then simmered with lardons, mushrooms and pearl onions: That's the French stew known as boeuf bourguignon. Soulful and delicious, it's a dream of a dish for a dinner party, as it can be made entirely in advance – even the day before. Precede it with a green salad (or maybe roasted cauliflower soup with brown butter), then serve it with buttered noodles, potatoes or rice – and crusty French bread for sopping up the wonderful sauce. If you're looking for a small cheat or you don't find nice, small pearl onions, buy a bag of frozen ones, already peeled. To peel pearl onions easily, drop them in boiling water first, let boil about 10 seconds, then drain, rinse in cold water and use a small knife to trim and peel. 

For stews like this, you want to use a fatty cut of beef; chuck is ideal (look for a piece that's well-marbled). A beef shank, with its marrow-filled bone, adds wonderful richness. But if you don't find beef shank, don't worry; go ahead and use all beef chuck (about 3 1/4 pounds total). Don't worry if the cubes you cut the beef into are irregular; it'll still be awesome.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt, divided

2 pounds beef chuck, cut into cubes of about 1 1/2 inches (more or less)

1 3/4 pound beef shank (including the bone), the meat cut off the bone (reserve the bone) and cut into (more or less) 1 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional if necessary to brown the meat

1 medium onion, cut into big chunks

3 carrots, peeled and cut into big chunks

3 stalks celery, cut into big chunks

3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

1 bottle red wine

1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Bouquet garni: 4-5 branches fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves, 10 peppercorns and a small handful of parsley tied into cheesecloth

6 ounces slab bacon, cut into lardons (rectangular bars about one inch long and 3/8-inch wide)

1 pound white or crimini mushrooms, trimmed and cut in half or quarters, depending on their size (if they're very small, you can leave them whole)

1 pound pearl onions or small boiling onions, peeled and any large ones cut in half 

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Instructions

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Add the cubes of beef and toss well to coat them. 

2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven until it is hot but not smoking. Add as many beef cubes as fit comfortably in one layer. Brown them about 3 minutes on one side, then start turning them and searing another side for about another 2 minutes. They won't be browned on all sides, but that's good (about five minutes total is what you want) – transfer them to a bowl and brown the rest, along with the shank bone, adding a little more olive oil if necessary. 

3. Once all the meat is browned, add the carrots, celery, onion chunks and garlic, and sauté them over medium heat for 6 or 7 minutes, till the onions start to soften. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the red wine, and deglaze the Dutch oven by scraping the bits of browned meat off the bottom of the Dutch oven. Now add the rest of the wine, 1 cup of chicken broth and the beef chunks and bone, and stir to combine. The meat should be nearly covered by liquid; if not, add a little more chicken broth. Now add the bouquet garni. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, turn the heat to medium-low and let simmer about 5 minutes. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the oven and let it braise 1 hour and 45 minutes, stirring it now and then and adding more chicken broth if necessary, until the meat is starting to be very tender. Remove from the oven and let it cool a bit while you prepare the garnishes.

4. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan or skillet, add the lardons and cook them over medium heat until their fat is rendered they're they're browned on the edges. Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a small bowl. Add the mushrooms to the fat and cook them over medium heat, adding a little olive oil if they look too dry, until they start to release their water, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Use the slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms into a bowl. Add the pearl onions, shake them around in the pan (adding a little olive oil if necessary), and cook them 15 minutes or so, shaking the pan now and then, till they're golden. Remove from heat and reserve.

5. Skim as much fat as you can off the top of the braised beef. Use tongs to remove the beef chunks to a bowl and reserve; discard the shank bone and the bouquet garni. Strain the braising liquid into a bowl, pressing on the vegetables to release as much liquid as possible, and discard (or snack on!) the vegetables. Wash the Dutch oven, then place the beef cubes and braising liquid back in it. Add the lardons, mushrooms, pearl onions the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, black pepper to taste, and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat on the stove, then transfer, partially covered, to the oven and let it braise another half hour. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you're going to serve it right away and feel the stew needs thickening (I usually don't do this, and you certainly won't need to do it if you're going to chill it overnight), bring it back to a simmer over high heat and cook it rapidly 5 or 10 minutes, uncovered, to thicken it. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley, or refrigerate overnight, then reheat on the stove. Serve with buttered noodles, potatoes or rice.