The first thing I think of whenever I see this recipe is “how did they manage to put so many vowels in those words?”, and I usually have to look at it to type it or I’ll spell it wrong. This recipe is not for the faint of heart – there is an ample amount of animal fat, oil, and butter. DH and I are intending to begin a new regime this week, so we figured we may as well get the last culinary “hurrah” before we have to lay off the fat stuff for a while.
I’ll preface today’s post by saying that the majority of recipes I intend to blog about won’t be nearly as rich and complicated, primarily because I just won’t have time for long posts like this on a regular basis – and, because most of us don’t have time to make recipes like this frequently – I suspect I’d lose you. But since the inspiration for me began with the story of the blogger taking a culinary journey with Julia – it seems only appropriate to begin our journey with the famed French recipe for Beef Stewed in Wine. It’s not difficult. It’s just got a few steps, and takes a little time. Save it for the weekend, when you can be doing laundry or playing with kids between steps.
For the recipe, I’m paraphrasing here from Julia Child’s version in the “French Chef Cookbook” (her version is a little wordy). I simplified it a bit but tried not to lose any of the integrity of the real deal.
• 3 lbs. stew meat, or a chuck roast cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
• 6 oz. of lean salt pork, pork belly, or fresh (not smoked) bacon, cut into 1×1/4 inch pieces. If you must, you can substitute thick-sliced smoked bacon, cut up.
• Vegetable oil
• A few tablespoons of butter, we’ll divide it up as we go
• 3 cups of a good tasting Pinot Noir (doesn’t have to be expensive
• 1-2 tbl. Of tomato paste
• 3 cloves smashed garlic
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 lb. fresh mushroom, quartered and stems trimmed
• 18 white pearl onions, peeled (or a 10-oz. box of frozen pearl onions, already peeled – much easier!)
Once all you have your ingredients ready in one spot, preheat your oven to 325F. Over medium-high heat, fry the lardons (bacon pieces) in a large skillet (I like non-stick for this) until browned. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Then add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet so you’ve got a good covering of fats on the bottom. In two batches, brown the meat on all sides a couple of minutes. Then place each batch of browned meat into an ovenproof casserole dish, ideally one that has a cover (or you can use foil).
When the meat is browned and transferred to your casserole, drain the excess fat from the skillet but don’t wipe it – leave the brown bits at the bottom. Put the pan back on the heat and pour in the wine, scraping up any bits and goodness at the bottom. Pour the wine from the skillet into the casserole, and add enough beef stock to almost cover the meat. Then add your tomato paste, mashed garlic, thyme, bay leaf. It didn’t say exactly whether or not to mix it in, so I just gently loosened up the paste in the broth and moved it and the thyme around the liquid a bit. Save the skillet for the next step. Bring the stew to a simmer on the stovetop. Then cover the casserole, and put it in the preheated oven for at least 2-1/2 hours. I did mine for 3-1/4, but I like it falling apart.
While the stew is cooking, sauté mushrooms in a tablespoon each of butter and vegetable oil. Season with salt, then transfer to a small bowl and set aside. In the same skillet, add one more tablespoon of butter, the peeled onions, and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover the skillet, and cook the onions until nice and soft. Remove from heat and set aside.
Now, I could go on with another couple of steps that were in the original recipe, but in my estimation, it would have taken twice as long for the same result. I’m sure a French culinary authenticist would argue, but I have a family, and extra steps for the sake of tradition are just not in my schedule. So, here’s what I did to finish the dish and the sauce:
About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve, add the prepared onions and mushrooms to the casserole. Gently mix them into the cooking juices and return the casserole to the oven until they are just heated through, about 5-10 minutes. Then, pour the cooking liquid from the casserole into a gravy separator, if you have one. Add enough stock to make 2-1/4 full cups of liquid. Spoon off excess fat or let it stay in the separator when you add the rest to the sauce.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add 3 tablespoons of flour, whisk and cook until blended about 1-2 minutes. Then, slowly whisking, gradually add the de-fatted cooking liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, until all is incorporated. Bring to just a boil until beginning to thicken, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Season well with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper, and taste. Since you haven’t added any salt and pepper to the stew yet, the sauce will serve as the seasoning.
When the sauce is done, make sure the rest of the fat has been drained out of the casserole, and then add the sauce to the cooked stew. Mix around gently and heat on the stove top for a minute or two. Taste again and adjust seasonings. Keep warm until serving. IT’S DONE!
Was it worth it?
Definitely! Actually, I was surprised. Any kind of beef stew is not really my favorite meal. This was absolutely spectacular. I wouldn’t have done anything differently, than what I mentioned above. According to my French husband, I passed the test of authenticity test, spot on. Yay for me! I’ll be honest, though. It will probably be another year before I make it again, and I would invite company to appreciate it for all the time it took. Oh, and did I mention, the dish has romance written all over it, especially if your guy is a “meat and potatoes” man. So, if you’re looking to hook one in, this might be a contender…
I’ve always exposed my kids to everything I cook, so they can tolerate more flavor than most kids that are accustomed to a weekly mac and cheese diet. They still didn’t gobble it up – so this will not get a ‘kid-friendly’ recipe tag. My husband and I, however, had no problem. I served it with parsley buttered boiled potatoes, and a green salad and crusty artisan bread – traditional as told to me by both the book and my husband.
What I would change:
First, you should know that DH and I had ordered part of a cow this year for our supply of red meat, (the most delicious I’ve ever tasted!) so I used a chuck roast – trimmed the meat off the bone as close as I could, and then cut it into large stew chunks. I kept used the smaller bone pieces to retain the flavor from them and discarded the longest one because it didn’t fit nicely in the pan. If you don’t know this, the marrow from the bone of the cow is succulent (some gourmet restaurants even serve it as a dish). So don’t throw the bones away until after you cooked the stew with it!
I thought I was lucky to find pork bellies in my grocery store – which is the original ingredient used in place of bacon. But, it turned into a lot of wasted time. I found it to be difficult to cut up – ended up using kitchen shears, and mid-way through frying them, I realized they needed to be smaller in order to brown, so I frantically was cutting them smaller while they were in the pan. I would stick to ready-made fresh bacon, if you can find it, that isn’t smoked – or use regular bacon and simmer it for a few minutes immersed in water to get the smoky flavor out (as recommended by Julia). Then dry it with a few paper towels, and fry it up as you would. If you are just not up for the extra step – I’ve used smoked before in other recipes for this with fine results – it’s just not as traditional, and truly, the flavor is not as completely delicious.
I had already begun this recipe before I realized the only wine left in the house was a simple Columbia Crest drinking merlot, not the finer pinot noir (or burgundy) that it calls for. But, unless I wanted dinner to be served at 9pm – I had to proceed, and at least it was a younger red. So in went the merlot and after the casserole was already in the oven I had DH run out and get a proper wine to at least drink with the dinner.
Another thing I changed is to reduce the wine to 2 cups, and replace it with another cup of stock, which by the way, I only had chicken stock in the house too. This toned down the wine flavor just enough so that the kids would taste it without making a face – because 3 cups really is a lot of wine flavor, even for me, and I have a very high threshold for wine consumption 😉 . The chicken stock was perfect – a bit lighter and allowed the flavor of the true beef to come out instead of being masked with the heavy taste of beef stock. Perhaps were I not using top quality beef from a butcher, it would have needed the extra beef flavor.
Rating with Recipe Reviewer’s Changes: 5 Stars