October 10, 2011

Beef Stew in Red Wine Sauce

I have been eyeing this Food and Wine recipe by Jacques Pépin for quite some time. The weather got chilly this week and I figured this was a great time to braise some boeuf. Plus, I love any reason to use my pretty Le Creuset french oven. And I needed something that didn't take too long to prepare because we had friends coming over for dinner and we planned it last minute - some of the braised beef recipes I have tried literally take days to prepare. Days! I used a descent bottle of Pinot Noir for the braise, it is the most important ingredient other than the beef since the sauce depends on the flavor of the red wine.

2 pounds beef from the flatiron part of the shoulder
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon flour
1 bottle of red wine
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
15 cipollini or pearl onions
15 cremini mushrooms
15 baby carrots
5-ounce piece of pancetta
1/4 cup water
Dash of sugar
Chopped fresh parsley


1. Buy about 2 pounds of beef from the flatiron part of the shoulder. Remove the skin or sinew from the top. Alternatively, use lean beef chuck in the same manner. Cut the meat into 8 pieces.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast-iron pot that is attractive enough for the table. Arrange the meat in one layer in the pot, and season it with salt and pepper. Cook on top of the stove over high heat for about 8 minutes, browning the meat on all sides.

3. Add 1 cup of finely chopped onion and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic. Cook over moderate heat for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tablespoon of flour. Mix in well so that the flour doesn't form lumps. Stir in 1 bottle of red wine. Add 2 bay leaves, a sprig of fresh thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir well and cover.

4. Place the pot in the oven and continue to cook for about 1 1/2 hours; the meat should be soft and tender and the liquid properly reduced. The recipe can be prepared to this point up to a day ahead.
5. For the garnishes, peel 15 cipollini or pearl onions, wash 15 cremini mushrooms and peel 15 baby carrots. For the lardons, you will need one 5-ounce piece of pancetta. Bring the pancetta and 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and simmer for about 30 minutes; drain. Cut the pancetta into 1/2-inch slices and then cut the slices into 1-inch-wide lardons.

6. Combine the onions, mushrooms, carrots and pancetta in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 cup of water and a good dash each of sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes; at this point, there should be practically no water left. Uncover and cook over high heat, sautéing the vegetables until nicely browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. 

7. To serve, mix some of the vegetables and lardons into the stew and sprinkle the rest on top as a garnish. Add a little chopped fresh parsley and serve.
Like every good meal I had in Paris, I started eating before I snapped a pic. Look how gorgeous that dish looks! Before the beef we had an awesome salad that our friends whipped up. As for the recipe above, that is Jacques' recipe exactly. I give it 4 stars - easy enough and a rather impressive dish. Very rich. I will definitely make it again.

Here are my tips and things I would do differently next time. First, read the recipe all the way through. Prep the ingredients ahead of time. I typically do both of these things but this time I was in a rush and once you start getting into it things move fast! You need to have your chopped onion and garlic and wine on hand ready to go. It said to cut the beef into 8 pieces, no way! They would have been gigantic. I cut them into very large stew like pieces because you still want the meat to be tender (this does require you cut your meat as you eat the dish). Things get confusing around step 5. I read that part over and over and was still a little confused and ended up missing the part about putting the lardons in with the veggies. Ooops, still turned out yummy.

We went to two stores and couldn't fine the cipollini onions. An ironic twist since last time I made Boeuf Bourguignon I had the onions and forgot to put them in the stew. I just cut up an onion instead.

Next time I think I will try short ribs instead of the flatiron steak. The flatiron turned out tender but it seemed quite lean. The sauce had so much richness but the beef itself wasn't extremely flavorful. I would also cook more veggies as I found the meal to be mostly meat with just a few veggies. Bernie would have liked to see some potatoes in there, not sure how to properly work that in. They call this a stew but really it is beef in the red wine sauce with a few veggies mixed in - more of a knife and fork dish rather than a spoon. Maybe I reduced the sauce too much? Nahhh, it tasted too good to be wrong.

You can find a couple versions of this recipe online, replacing the wine with either Belgian pale ale or dark ale. It would be fun to try the variations and compare.

Bon appéttit!

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