Not Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
Is it even Beef Bourguignon if you don’t follow Julia Child’s recipe?? Turns out, yes. This fabulous French beef stew featuring burgundy wine is famous for a reason! It is different from a regular beef stew because the wine sauce is richer and thicker, and great care is taken to ensure the vegetables are not overcooked. The result is truly transcendent!
This post is sponsored by Zoup! Good, Really Good® Broth, but all opinions are my own of course! Thanks for supporting the amazing brands that keep The Food Charlatan chugging along.
A few weeks ago Eric and I were folding laundry together. He said casually, “Karen, these days you fold my underwear even better than my mom!”
Why thank you! I will take a bow now. Let me just add this to my resume. And please make sure this fact ends up on my tombstone. Karen, the Greatest Folder of Eric’s Underwear. Even Better Than His Mom.
Honestly if I had a dollar for every time Eric has said to me, “Well that’s the way my mom always did it,” I’d be a very rich lady. Childhood habits tend to achieve a sort of godlike, noble status. Sometimes it’s kind of terrifying to think about what kind of impact I’m having on my own children’s psyche.
Another time recently Eric’s mom Kris was visiting. She was searching the fridge for the Worcestershire sauce and finally gave up and asked me where it was. I said, it’s in the pantry of course! Isn’t that where you store it? No, she said, her mom always put it in the fridge, so that’s what she does too. I said, well, my mom always put it in the pantry, so that’s what I do.
We ended up checking the label, because who knows! We both were just doing what our moms did! (It’s shelf-stable, turns out.) But isn’t it so funny how sometimes you just do something because that’s the way your mom did it? What other way even IS there? Kris, I will show you the proper way to fold Eric’s underwear the next time you’re in town.
Speaking of dyed in the wool traditions…
BEEF BOURGUIGNON. The sultan of swat. The king of crash. The colossus of clout! Or maybe the T-Rex of Stews? Does anyone else feel a wee bit intimidated by this iconic dish?? (Also, if you can name that movie, hat’s off to you.)
There sure is a lot of hullabaloo about this recipe. Julia Child taught Americans how to make it 60 years ago, and we’ve all been tripped up on her version ever since. (Kind of like how your mom folds your underwear a certain way??)
I recently read a book about an American mom raising her kids in France. Most French children eat on what she calls “the national feeding schedule:” 8am, noon, 4pm, and 8pm. Her French pediatrician didn’t tell her about the schedule (she found out when she enrolled her kid in preschool). She asked him why he hadn’t mentioned it, and he said that he knew she would take the schedule too literally instead of finding her baby’s rhythm.
Sometimes we Americans get a little obsessed with rules. But simmer down you guys. It’s just a thick beef stew with some wine in it. If you want to make it a little different than Julia, I will still sit with you at lunch. She even says in the preface to the recipe in her book: “As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon.” Let’s go wild my friends.
Here are the main ingredients of beef bourguignon:
- bacon or salt pork
- high quality, well-marbled beef (high quality doesn’t mean expensive)
- beef stock
- vegetables: usually carrots, onions, pearl onions, and mushrooms.
The rest is just details. Oh you like details? Here they are!
The Bacon (or is it Salt Pork?)
A good Beef Bourguignon starts out with pork. In France, they use lardon, which is kind of like thick bacon, except it’s not smoked. Most of the bacon and lardon here in the US is smoked, so Julia Child recommends blanching the bacon in boiling water for 10 minutes, to reduce the smokey flavor.
I tried it and felt like I was committing an actual crime. The resulting bacon (after draining and frying for a few minutes) is pale and flavorless. I kept trying to steal bites, like I do whenever there is bacon in my kitchen. I would eat it and think “why did I just put this flavorless fat into my mouth” and then spit it in the sink.
I’m sure it’s fine in a stew. You will still get lots of fatty flavor. But I just couldn’t do it.
Instead, I used salt pork in my stew. This was my first time buying salt pork; it is cut from the same part of the pig as bacon (the belly) but is not smoked. Instead it is cured with salt, hence the name. It will give you that crispy, fatty flavor you want, minus the smokiness, which is closer to the flavor you would get in France. It’s delicious when fried and I couldn’t stop stealing bites.
Fair warning: it is indeed quite salty. I didn’t add any other salt to my beef bourguignon besides what I sprinkled on my beef before searing.
Can you just fry regular bacon and skip the blanching step? Absolutely! Your stew will have a smokey notes which is not traditional, but it will still be delicious! Who’s going to say no to bacon?
The Beef: what cut of meat is best for beef bourguignon?
Next up: the beef! We are cooking this meat low and slow. I love to use a simple chuck roast. It’s cheap, it’s reliable. Here are some other cuts:
- Chuck roast
- Round. Either a rump roast or bottom round. Top round works too.
“But all these cuts of meat are cheap and lean and tough! Isn’t Beef Bourguignon supposed to be special??”
Here’s why tough cuts of beef are best for slow cooking and braising: all these cuts come from well-exercised muscles of the cow. They are lower in fat. But they are higher in connective muscle tissue called collagen. Collagen, when cooked low and slow, turns into gelatin, which tenderizes the meat and gives it that melt-in-your-mouth texture.
I like chuck roast best, because it has plenty of connective tissue but also a decent amount of fat. Best of both worlds! My next choice would be brisket.
Be careful with the packages marked “stew beef” at your store. I have used them successfully in the past, but just be aware that sometimes butchers throw in random scraps from other cuts. What cuts of meat end up in your pre-chopped stew beef really depends on your butcher. Ask them! MOST of the time, if cooked slow, stew beef will turn out fine. But if you have big plans for your beef bourguignon, just buy the cut of meat you know you want and chop it yourself. (Or ask your butcher to chop it!)
The Beef Stock
The better your beef stock, the better your beef bourguignon. Today I’m partnering with Zoup! Good, Really Good® Broth to tell you about their AMAZING broth selections! I love Zoup! Broth products and use them in my soups and stews all the time (like this Creamy Turkey Wild Rice Soup I made last year!)
Zoup! Good, Really Good® Beef Bone Broth is the perfect ingredient for this beef bourguignon. It is kettle cooked in small batches and you can tell, because the flavor is way more complex than what you get from mass-produced beef broth. It really is good enough to drink. It’s also low calorie, paleo-friendly, and free of artificial ingredients, preservatives, hormones, gluten, GMO’s, fat, trans fat, and saturated fat.
Their broths were developed by a 20+ year soup veteran and the team behind Zoup Eatery, a restaurant that specializes in soup. How cool is that? Soup is so underrated. If there is anyone I would trust with making a good broth, it’s a bunch of soup experts. Which is why they’ve taken their broths to the masses. You can find Zoup! Broth just about anywhere these days (I found it at my local Savemart), or you can always buy it online at ZoupBroth.com and Amazon. Use code 20ZOUP114 for 20% off your Amazon order! (good for 30 days.)
In addition to Beef Bone Broth, they now offer new seafood broth, new spicy chicken bone broth, plus all the usual suspects like chicken broth, low-sodium chicken broth, veggie broth, and chicken bone broth, plus organic chicken and veggie broth. Head over to ZoupBroth.com to learn more, and follow @ZoupGoodReallyGood on Facebook and Instagram, and @ZoupGoodReallyGoodBroth on Pinterest.
Do you see the little sticker here where it says, “BEST Pinot Noir!” I feel like this is that part on Elf where Buddy sees the sign that says “Best Cup of Coffee in New York” and congratulates all the employees for achieving such a feat. No, it’s NOT the best coffee in New York, and no, this is NOT the best Pinot Noir.
I know because I went to the wine aisle in the store. Found the section for Pinot Noir. On the top shelf there was a bottle marked for $30. I thought to myself, H to the no. The next shelf had one for $18. Then I looked allll the way down on the bottom shelf where I saw this “Best Pinot Noir” for a whopping 5 dollars. I will take that one thankyouverymuch! Only the BEST for me!
Now listen. If you are a wine person, then buy your fancy wine and put it in your stew. Drop $30 on the top shelf. The rest of us will buy the cheap or moderate wine and still get a really amazing beef bourguignon. Usually I just use cooking wine, because hello cheap. But I felt like Beef Bourguignon deserved at least a little step up. (plus cooking wine has salt in it and I was worried about the salt level from the salt pork.)
Full disclosure: I do not drink alcohol. Obviously I’m not qualified to talk about wine selections. Use your best judgment! Here’s what Julia Child says: “Use a full-bodied, young red wine such as one of those suggested for serving.” Any red wine that you enjoy will be great in this recipe.
What if you want to skip the wine entirely? Now that’s when you start messing with the recipe in a real way. It’s a key ingredient. Can you replace the wine with beef broth? Absolutely! It will just be a regular beef stew though. The wine is crucial to the flavor of beef bourguignon.
And lastly, the vegetables. Traditionally in beef bourguignon you see carrots, two kinds of onions for maximum flavor, and mushrooms. I’ve also seen recipes use potatoes, but that’s not as common.
The reason that this recipe gets fussy with extra steps is because of these darn vegetables. We want to give them as much flavor as possible (this means sautéing) but not cook them to death. Nobody wants mushy veggies. The beef needs to cook for 2-3 hours, and if you cook mushrooms and carrots that long, you will have a sad result indeed.
So this recipe calls for sauteing most of the vegetables individually, then setting aside on a plate to add back into the stew later. I know, I know, so annoying! It’s part of the reason beef bourguignon has a reputation for being fussy.
But the result is worth it. You end up with a stew that has the most amazingly rich creamy sauce (that is able to thicken much more because of a lack of vegetables, which release tons of liquid). And of course, the carrots are perfectly tender and not mushy. The pearl onions are soft, but firm enough to give you these amazing bursts of flavor when you bite into them. The mushrooms are not reduced to a slimy mess, but instead are perfectly plump and textured; they rival the meat itself.
How to make Beef Bourguignon
I’ll walk you through the steps!
Slice your salt pork into strips, then add them to the pan.
Look at how gloriously crispy and fatty it is. Hello flavor! Set the salt pork aside. Leave all that grease in the pan.
Now take some beef and fry it in the fat from the pork. Yum.
Be sure to dry your beef with a paper towel before adding salt and pepper. It won’t brown when you try to sear it.
Add the salt pork back to the pot, coat with flour, and saute it for a minute or two. Set aside off heat.
Meanwhile, chop up some onions, carrots, and garlic, and saute in a 12 inch skillet. Set aside on a plate.
In the same pan that you cooked the carrots, reduce the wine. This step is optional. Most recipes call for adding the wine straight to the beef, but I find that wine in stew can sometimes be sour, astringent, and overpowering if it’s not reduced a bit first. This is personal preference! Skip it if you like!
Add the wine and beef broth to the meat coated with flour. Add the tomato paste, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and add in the salt pork rind, if you have it. Bring it all to a boil. Then cover and cook at 300 in the oven for about 3 hours.
Halfway through cooking, add the carrots and onions to the stew.
When your beef bourguignon is almost finished cooking (you will know because the aroma is enough to knock you out), prepare your pearl onions and mushrooms.
Poach the pearl onions for a few minutes to make them nice and tender, then when the water evaporates, brown them in the remaining butter. You can add the frozen pearl onions to the stew (without sautéing) along with the carrots; but you would be giving up this beautiful browning.
Same goes for the mushrooms. They are so perfect and tender when you brown them by themselves; but if you like, you can add them in raw halfway through the cook time.
You can see in the photo on the right how your beef bourguignon sauce should look. If it is too thin to coat the back of a spoon when you take it out of the oven, then strain all the meat and veggies from the sauce and cook it down until the sauce is thick. Beef bourguignon is not soup.
Once you have your sauce nice and thick, add all the vegetables into the pot and stir it together.
What to serve with Beef Bourguignon
I love to serve beef bourguignon with either these mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles. Traditionally it is served over boiled potatoes.
As for side dishes, I love to serve it with a nice big green salad! It’s nice to have something light to go with such a heavy dish. Try this Apple Gorgonzola Salad, or this Fancy No Chop Salad. You could also serve buttered peas (Julia’s suggestion) or anything else green. Brussels Sprouts, green beans, broccoli, etc.
It’s also nice to serve beef bourguignon with some crusty bread to mop up all the sauce. Try this One Hour French Bread!
One of my favorite things about Zoup! Broth is reusing the recyclable jars they come in. Every time I use Zoup, I immediately store some of whatever I’m making in the very convenient quart-size jars that the broth comes in. I either give some away to a friend or toss it in the freezer for a rainy day. Beef bourguignon is such a labor of love, it would be a shame not to share it with someone! Even if it’s just sharing it with your future self!
More beef recipes you will love!
- Classic Beef Stroganoff >> very similar to beef bourguignon and way easier.
- Easy Fall-Apart Pot Roast with Carrots >> one of the top recipes on my site!
- How to Cook Ribeye Steak >> this is the most tender steak of your life.
- How to Cook Tri Tip >> if you have never had this cut of meat you are missing out!
- How to Cook Flank Steak >> so good with chimichurri.
- The Best Chili Recipe I’ve Ever Made >> still true. So good.
- Classic Shepherd’s Pie with Crispy Cheddar Topping >> a classic for a reason.
- Ultimate Slow Cooker Beef Stew from Dinner Then Dessert
- The Best Instant Pot Beef Stew from Family Fresh Meals
- Pressure Cooker Irish Stew from Noshtastic
Not Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon
- 8 ounces bacon OR salt pork*
- 3 pound chuck roast, chopped into 2 inch pieces
- salt and pepper
- oil for searing beef and sautéing veggies
- 1 tablespoon butter, for coating beef with flour
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 pound carrots, about 7-8 medium, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
- 3 cups red wine, 750ml bottle
- 2-4 cups Zoup! Good, Really Good® Beef Bone Broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/3 cup parsley, chopped
- 6 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- rind from salt pork, if using
For the pearl onion garnish
- 14 ounces frozen pearl onions
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
For the mushroom garnish
- 1 pound mushrooms, halved or quartered
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- If using bacon: Cut the bacon into 1 inch pieces and cook over medium heat in a large oven-safe pot that has a lid. I prefer an enameled cast iron pot like this one from Lodge. Do not overcook the bacon. Set the cooked bacon aside on a paper towel lined plate; leave all the grease in the pot. (Turn off the heat if your beef is not ready for searing.)
- If using salt pork: cut the rind off the end of the salt pork and set aside (we need it later). Slice the salt pork into strips about 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch by 1 and 1/2 inches. (see photos) Cook the salt pork in a large oven-safe pot that has a lid. over medium heat. Arrange the strips of salt pork in one layer in the pot, cook until browned, then turn each strip (just as you would bacon). The salt pork should be lightly browned when you remove it to a paper towel lined plate. Leave all the grease in the pot. (Turn off the heat if your beef is not ready for searing.)
- Sear the beef. Chop your beef into roughly 2 inch pieces; they don't have to be exact. Use a paper towel to dry off each piece of beef. (If you don't do this, the meat will not brown.) Season the beef with salt and pepper.
- Turn on the burner to medium high heat to warm up the bacon/salt pork grease. There should be plenty of grease (at least 2 tablespoons), but if there is not, add additional olive oil. When it is very hot, add about 1/3 of the beef, one piece at a time. Leave 1-2 inches space in between each piece so that it has room to sear (otherwise it will not brown). Let the beef cook in the oil for 1-2 minutes, until well browned, then flip each piece over with tongs and brown the other side. Remove the beef to a plate and continue searing the rest of the beef in batches until all the beef is done, adding additional oil as necessary. Adjust the heat as necessary so that it doesn't burn.
- Coat beef with flour. When the last batch of beef is seared, lower the heat to medium and add all the beef back to the pot. Add the cooked bacon or salt pork into the pot. Add a tablespoon of butter and let it melt. Stir to coat all the meat. Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour over the top. Stir to coat each piece of beef with flour. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until the flour has absorbed and had a chance to heat up and cook (this gets rid of the flour flavor.) Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Saute veggies. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch high sided skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion and chopped carrots. Let cook for 3-4 minutes until starting to brown.
- Add 6 cloves of sliced garlic to the carrots and onions (add additional oil if necessary). Let the garlic saute for about 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant. Do not let it brown. Remove the vegetables to a plate or bowl and set aside.
- Reduce the wine, optional:** In the same 12 inch high sided skillet, add 3 cups of red wine, which is just about the entire bottle if you bought 750ml. Bring to a boil over high heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the vegetables. Lower to a rolling simmer and let cook until the wine has reduced by about a cup, about 10-15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Bring the stew to a simmer on the stovetop. Once the wine is reduced, pour it on top of the beef in the pot. (Don't bother washing the skillet. We need it again.) Add enough beef broth to almost cover the beef in the pot. It should be mostly covered with just a few pieces sticking up over the surface. Set over medium high heat and bring to a simmer, making sure to scrape the bottom so it doesn't burn.
- Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/3 cup chopped parsley, 6 fresh thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves, and the rind from the salt pork, if you have it. Stir it all together. (Don't add the carrots yet.)
- Once simmering, cover the pot with an oven safe lid. Put the covered pot in the oven with a rack set in the lower third of the oven. Cook at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- After an hour and a half,*** add the sautéed carrot mixture to the pot. Stir together, cover, and return to the oven for another 60-90 minutes. Your beef should be cooking in the oven for a minimum of 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours. We are adding the carrots halfway so that they don't get too mushy.
- Meanwhile, prepare the pearl onions. Add the frozen onions to the same 12-inch high sided skillet that you reduced the wine in. (No need to wash it out.) Add 2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 tablespoons butter. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and let the onions simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When all the water has evaporated, let the onions saute in the remaining butter until they are browned on all sides. Remove the onions to a plate and set aside.
- Prepare the mushrooms. Clean the mushrooms and dry them very well. Leave small mushrooms whole, halve or quarter any large ones. In the same pan that you prepared the pearl onions, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat. When it is very hot, add HALF of the mushrooms. Saute for about 4 minutes. First the mushrooms will absorb the fat, then after about 4-5 minutes they will start to release it again and brown. When they start to brown, remove the mushrooms to a plate. Repeat the same process for the second batch of mushrooms. (Yes, of course you can saute the mushrooms all at once if you prefer. Doing it in batches lets you sear the mushrooms rather than steaming them in a crowded pan. Fussy step? Yes! It's beef bourguignon! Take shortcuts when you start shaking your fist at the sky!) Remove all the mushrooms to a plate and set aside.
- When your beef has been cooking for a minimum of 2 and 1/2 hours, remove from the oven and test the meat. You should be able to break up the beef with a wooden spoon. If it is still too tough, put it back in the oven for another 20-40 minutes.
- Taste the sauce and thicken if necessary. At this point, Julia calls for straining the whole thing and cooking down the sauce some more, but I found it wasn't necessary. The sauce should be rich, creamy, and thick. It should coat the back of a spoon. If it is too thin, use a colander to strain out all the meat and veggies (catching the sauce in a bowl), return the sauce to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and will coat the back of a spoon.****
- Remove the thyme stems, bay leaves, and salt pork rind, if using. Add the pearl onions and mushrooms to the pot and stir it together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve the beef bourguignon over mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles.
Source: adapted, of course, from the Great Bambino herself, Julia Child.
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