Boeuf Bourguignon is a rustic beef stew. At least it is supposed to be. The typical method involves marinating the beef in red wine, mirepoix and herbs. Then braising the beef in the marinade with the addition of chunks of carrot, pearl onions and possibly potatoes. Done like that it is delicious and I often make one variation on it or another, but sometimes everything just tastes like everything else. Cooking everything in one pot also risks overcooking the vegetables before the meat is done. Sometimes a comforting stew with soft vegetables is what I want and it has its own charm including the convenience of letting it simmer gently while I sip some red wine.
This time I decided to try Thomas Keller’s method from “Bouchon” for a much more refined take on this stew. In typical Keller fashion, there are a multitude of steps and several strainings, but the end result is like no other Boeuf Bourguignon. While the end result is truly spectacular, I am not saying it is necessarily better than a more homey version. The main difference between Keller’s recipe and others is that he uses a very reduced (in hindsight I should’ve reduced mine more) red wine base to flavor the stew and he cooks each vegetable separately to get the most perfect texture for each one before combining the whole dish in the end.
First order of business is the red wine reduction. I was doubling the recipe so I cooked wine from two bottles with carrots, onions, shallots, parsley, thyme, garlic, bay leaves and leeks. I was supposed to reduce the wine to a glaze, but the recipe was not specific as to how much red wine reduction I should end up with. I think from the two bottles I ended up with maybe a a cup and half of reduction. I think that was too much and I should’ve reduced to about 3/4 of cup.
The beef (I used chuck, Keller used boneless short ribs) is seared on all sides. In a clay pot I put a layer of chopped vegetables (again carrots, leeks, onions, thyme, bay…) and mixed that with the reduced wine sauce. On top I put a dampened cheesecloth and used it to make a “nest” for the seared beef. This is done to separate the beef from the vegetable bits and to keep it “clean”. Basically the chopped vegetables are now a part of a huge herb sachet and their only purpose is to flavor the braising liquid and the meat. Does that cheesecloth really make much of a difference? Who knows. The devil is in the details. Would I do that again? Probably not. On top goes a few cups of stock. Keller recommends veal or beef. I used a combination of venison stock, chicken stock and the Fat Duck red wine sauce base (I still had a few non-reduced vacuum packed packages from this dish..and this). I figured the Fat Duck sauce will work great because it is basically beef stock with red wine. This cooks in the oven for a good three hours. After that the meat is removed and the cooking liquid is strained over it. The cooking vegetables are discarded. At this point I really should’ve reduced the cooking liquid by about a third maybe since in the end, there was a bit more liquid than I like in the dish.
Keller cooks all the vegetables separately. The carrots and pearl onions are glazed, the fingerling potatoes boiled and sautéed and the mushrooms are cooked down with bacon lardons. I cooked the mushrooms traditionally in a pan, but the rest of the vegetables were bagged in FoodSaver bags and cooked sous vide at 85C for various periods of time with the carrots taking the longest.
When ready to serve more or less everything is combined and heated through gently. It’s a wonderful comforting dish with deep savory flavors. The vegetables were bright and perfectly cooked. Too bad the sauce was not as reduced as it should’ve been or it would’ve made this perfect.