Insanity! Beef Bourguignon



Making this was legitimately ridiculous- more ridiculous than the French Onion Soup- more ridiculous than making your own stock-and even more ridiculous than making any of the dishes I made for our French Laundry-themed New Year’s Dinner (and that one was really ridiculous).

The beef bourguignon was just insane. And I have a high tolerance for insane recipes. I love the process and I am going through a stage in which actually following a recipe and doing it to exact specifications is appealing.

I knew making this would involve an outrageous process. When something intimidates me, like this recipe did, I work myself up to making it. It is a process. It took me about 2 years to work myself up to getting braces on my teeth before actually doing it. It only took me two months of thinking to begin the Bouchon Beef Bourguignon. In many ways it was just as painful and traumatic, but ultimately as rewarding as getting braces.

The reality is that if I knew then what I know now, I would STILL make this dish. I would just be a little more relaxed about the approach. I don’t think making this HAS to be painful. I was uptight and terrified and intimidated and I froze under my own pressure. Plus, the end result of the process- the tastes, textures, and flavors – the dish that ended up on my plate was blissful. Dreams are made of those things and ideals are built on them! It was vibrant, clear, pure and wholesome all at the same time.A complete work of art that I could not take credit for- Keller is the man!

Ok. Here’s what’s intimidating- an ingredient list that looks like this- a whole page (and that is a big book!)

Now, there are A LOT of ingredients on that list but most of them repeat themselves several times because of the quantities and preparations needed for each of the elements of this dish.

Here is my version of that same ingredient list.

1 bottle red wine (cabernet sauvignon)

4 small diced onions

3 medium size carrots peeled and sliced ½ inch thick

4 leeks white and light green parts only sliced ½ inch thick

1 cup sliced ¼ inch thick shallots

3 cup button mushrooms (1 cup sliced ¼ inch thick, the other two cleaned and quartered)

36 pearl onions – half white and half red

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 large bunch of rainbow carrots OR 24 round French baby carrots (peeled and cut into 1 inch long sticks)

1 lbs fingerling potatoes, preferably small (halved or quartered, depending on size)

9large cloves of garlic, skin left on, smashed

1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley

1 bunch fresh thyme

12 Bay leaves

4 teaspoons Black peppercorns (approximately)

4 cups of veal stock or beef stock

6 ounce slab of bacon cut into small lardons- about 1 ½ inches long and 3/8 inch thick

Salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons butter.

[See – not nearly as crazy looking! Notice that I allowed for (most) ingredients to occupy a whole row. I could have bunched them together tighter. ]

A few things you need aside from the ingredients: cheesecloth, parchment paper, a large ovenproof heavy bottomed pot, some patience and dedication to the process, and a bit of trust that this dish will blow your mind.

After couple of weeks’ worth of thinking, I decided that if I were ever to tempt you to make this, I should try to break it down into chapters, maybe like a book. Read it first- the whole thing then re-read while making it. Preview: the little book on beef bourguignon opens with well, the beef! It continues with the veggies, has a small parenthesis chapter on mushrooms, then a tiny one on bacon, and ends with the assembly of the dish. It should be at least a good read even you decide not to cook it! And if the writing is not the juiciest, I added plenty of pictures! Love picture books!

Pre-reading assignment- get your mise-en-place ready. Wash, clean, peel, chop, slice, dice, and gather spices, herbs, and other necessaries. This will prepare you for the Kafka of cooking- Keller’s beef bourguignon!

Note: on each of the steps below, I will list the ingredients necessary for that particular step. These are already included on the list above, but the step-specific ingredient list should guide you through quantities for that particular part of the recipe.

Chapter 1- two phases, one amazing braised meat

Once upon a time I figured that it is a good idea to start with the most tedious part of the dish because you are still fresh and rested despite the pre-assignment reading. This first story happens in two phases- first, the red wine reduction, them the braising mix and browning of the meat. The hardest thing really is getting your mise-en-place together. There is a lot of peeling, chopping, cutting, slicing, and dicing involved. Aside from that, though, smooth sailin’! This is true both in this “chapter” and in those to come.

Red Wine Reduction

Ingredients (hard part): 1 very cheap bottle of red wine (cabernet sauvignon), 2 peeled and diced yellow onions, 2 medium size carrots peeled and sliced ½ inch thick, 2 leeks white and light green parts only sliced ½ inch thick, 1 cup sliced ¼ inch thick shallots, 1 cup button mushrooms sliced ¼ inch thick (you can just use the stumps), 3 springs of thyme, 6 sprigs of parsley, 2 bay leaves, ½ teaspoon peppercorns, 3 garlic cloves skins on smashed.

Preparation (easy part): combine in a large heavy ovenproof pot with a lid.

[side note: This pot should be wide enough to hold the meat in two layers and tall enough to handle all of the ingredients from the red wine reduction, braising mix, veal stock, and meat]

Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45-50 minutes or until the wine reduces to a glaze.

One step down! Breathe. It wasn’t too bad.

Braising Mix and Meat

I wish I can say there is an easy step in this part. There isn’t.

Ingredients : 3 pounds boneless short ribs (cut in about ¾ inch cubes), 2 peeled and diced yellow onions, 1 medium size carrot peeled and sliced ½ inch thick, 2 leeks white and light green parts only sliced ½ inch thick, 3 springs of thyme, 6 sprigs of parsley, 2 bay leaves, ½ teaspoon peppercorns, 3 garlic cloves skins on smashed.

Cut the meat to 1 ½ inch by 1 inch thick. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1/8 inch of Canola oil in a sauté pan. Brown the beef in batches.

Make sure not to crowd the beef in the sauté pan so the beef does not steam-cook and will brown properly on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet and proceed with the next batch.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add the onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves to the reduction and toss together. Cut a piece of cheese cloth large enough to cover the length and width of the pot.

Wet it and wring it dry and lay it gently over the vegetables to form a nest for the meat. [The cheesecloth will allow the liquid to flavor the meat but prevent the herbs and vegetables from clinging to it- this is totally worth the trouble- trust, remember.]

Place the short ribs on the cheesecloth and add enough stock to come up just to the top of the meat. If you need to add a little more stock or just water, don’t be shy.

Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium high heat. Cover the meat with a parchment lid.

Here’s the deal with the parchment lid- take a piece of parchment paper larger than the diameter of your pot. Now fold it in half and then in half again and again until it looks almost like a paper airplane.

Unfold and make it fit onto your pot. You can pierce a hole in the middle of this. I didn’t.

Cover the pot with its lid. Place in the oven and reduce the heat to 325F. Braise the beef for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Transfer the meat to an oven proof pot or container. Remove and discard the cheesecloth. Strain the braising liquid and bring to a boil. Skim off the fat that rises to the top. Strain the liquid again over the beef. Let it cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day, or up to 3 days.

Side note: Technically you can stop here for the day and resume prep in a day when the meat is tender and ready to be served. Or you can continue and reserve all of your veggies for when the meat is ready in at least a day.

Chapter 2 Veggies

The prep/cooking involved here may seem hard, but bear in mind – you are just boiling a few potatoes, carrots and pearl onions. That’s all. It is not technical or complicated.

I decided that these three should be part of the same “chapter” because they are all beneficiaries of the exact same seasoning. You will use the same aromatics to flavor each of the three (or four if you count the pearl onions twice, which would only be fair!)- bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, and salt. The potatoes and carrots also get a little garlic flavoring.

Cooking them separately will allow you to fine-tune cooking time according to each ingredient and protect the integrity of their natural colors without blending and tainting one another. The end result is a burst of perfectly cooked, favored, and colored vegetables that please the sight almost as much the taste.

Pearl Onions – these are going to be annoying to prepare- not hard, just annoying. You just have to know that. You will need 2 bowls to soak them, two pots to cook them, two jars to store them until assembly- all in the name of not contaminating the color of the white ones with the stain that the red ones leave when soaked. So prepare yourself- separate the red from the white then prep and cook them the exact same way, just separately.

Ingredients: 36 pearl onions – half white and half red plus

aromatics: 1 bay leaf, 12 black peppercorns, 1 thyme sprig, Kosher saltx 2 (one set for each color of onions)

Plus 2 tsp red wine vinegar for red onions, white wine vinegar for yellow or white

To peel the onions, cut an X in the root end of each onion and place in a bowl.

Bring to a boil enough water to cover the onions- both sets. Pour the boiling water over the onions.

After about 5 minutes, the onion skins have softened enough to be peeled.Drain the water and peel the onions when they are cool enough to handle. Trim the roots if needed.

Place the onions in a saucepan that will hold them in a single or double layer. Cover by one inch with cold water. Add the aromatics.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the onions are tender when pierced with a paring knife.

Drain off all but 2 tbs. of water from the pan and stir in the vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.Rinse your pot slightly and move on to the other kind of pearl onions then to the potatoes.


Ingredients: 1 lbs fingerling potatoes, preferably small (halved or quartered, depending on size), aromatics (1 bay leaf, 12 black peppercorns, 2 thyme sprigs,) 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, 2 garlic cloves (skin on smashed)

Put the aromatics in a pot with the potatoes. Cover with water for at least an inch over the potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a paring knife. Discard seasonings and set aside. Rinse your pot slightly and move on to the carrots.

Carrots – Same as the potatoes really, but adjust quantities of aromatics

Ingredients: 1 large bunch of rainbow carrots OR 24 round French baby carrots (peeled and cut into 1 inch long sticks), aromatics (2 bay leaf, 12 black peppercorns, 4 thyme sprigs), 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, 2 garlic cloves (skin on smashed)

Put the aromatics in a pot with the carrots. Cover with water for at least an inch over the carrots and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer until the carrots can be pierced easily with a paring knife. Discard seasonings and set aside.

Chapter 3 Mushrooms

The worst is way behind you. I would even say at this point you see the light at the end of the tunnel. The mushrooms are quick and easy.

Clean the mushrooms and trim away the stems if not used (you can use them in the red wine reduction and just save the tops for the actual dish). Cut the tops into quarters.

Heat the butter in a large skillet until the butter has melted and the foam has subsided. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium low, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook gently, tossing often, until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

Chapter 4 Bacon

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the bacon into ½ inch (or so) little bits. Put the bacon bits in a shallow baking pan. Put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Remove the pan and drain the bacon fat into a separate dish. Return the pan to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. You want the fat to have melted off and to have brown bacon bits remaining.

Last Chapter

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place the container with the beef in the oven for a few minutes just enough to liquefy the stock.

Remove from oven and turn the oven up to 400F. Carefully remove the pieces of beef to a deep ovenproof sauté pan. Strain the liquid over the beef.

Place the pan in the oven and warm the beef for about 5 minutes basting occasionally with the cooking liquid. Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and onions and toss very gently to blend together.

Return to the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables and meat are hot. Rewarm the bacon bits in a small skillet.

Remove the sauté pan from the oven. With a slotted spoon, divide the meat and vegetables among serving plates or bowls. Spoon some of the sauce over each serving.- be generous, there is plenty of sauce. Distribute the bacon bits among the plates and sprinkle with kosher salt (or fleur de sel if you have it) and gently sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.

Happy ending:

We got 6 very generous servings out of this. It can probably be the main course for 8 if there was an appetizer and dessert. Enjoy!


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  • Lazaro Cooks!

    Saw your profile on food buzz. Glad I read your interesting and smart blog. The French Laundry Cookbook is the 2nd most influential cookbook I've ever read. I can totally relate to making these dishes. Strain, strain, strain right! I look forward to following your blog here. Have a great day.

  • Andra

    Lazaro- I love foodbuzz and am glad you found my blog through that. As for this recipe- I found that straining is almost addictive- once you have two pots dirty, there is no reason not to strain one more time. After I posted this, I read somewhere about using coffee filters to strain. I'm trying that next time. Thanks for visiting!