It’s inauguration day and also Martin Luther King Day and here I am sharing a French recipe. Before you label me a communist, I hope you know this is entirely coincidental. On Friday, I made dinner for a few friends and while thumbing through my cookbooks searching for an entree, the dish that really caught my eye was a recipe for Daube de Boeuf from Saveur Cooks Authentic French. Unlike Boeuf Bourguignon, Daube de Boeuf doesn’t ask you to render bacon or to cook pearl onions and mushrooms separately; here, you just brown beef in butter and olive oil, add your mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), garlic, and a good, bold red wine. Two hours later you add dried porcinis and their soaking liquid and the rest takes care of itself.
Really, the only step that matters is that you brown your beef well. This is always the case with braising because the better the sear on your meat, the stronger the flavor and also the more of a fond you leave behind–that’s the layer of caramelized goodies on the bottom of the pan–that’ll get picked up when you deglaze with the red wine. If I had to point out how I’ve grown the most as a cook over my 9 years of doing this, it would be my ability to brown meat really, really well:
The key is to do it in batches, leaving space between each piece and monitoring the heat so you don’t let anything burn. Also, a good tip: don’t start chopping your vegetables until you start browning your beef. This’ll ensure that you really let the beef take its time and you don’t stand around impatiently. If you do this right, you’ll have a plate of browned meat and a big bowl of vegetables ready to go at the same time:
As for the wine, make sure to get something good from France. The recipe calls for Côtes de Provence, I used a Côtes du Rhône and was very happy with the results. (The flour in there is to thicken the stew.)
Flavor is also gained from a bouquet garni, filled–somewhat traditionally–with thyme, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns which you tie up in cheesecloth so you can remove it easily later.
If you just cooked the beef in the wine with the vegetables and the bouquet garni, you’d have a very excellent dinner; but the ingredient that really shoots this into the stratosphere is a packet of dried porcinis. It’s really two gifts in one: when you soak the mushrooms in boiling water, you get rehydrated mushrooms that give your dish texture and then you get the precious mushroom soaking liquid which, if you want to be high-falutin, you can call a “porcini tea.” That stuff is liquid gold and gives your stew a deep, earthy taste that’s hard to place but also unforgettable.
So even though today’s a pretty America-centered day, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to make this for dinner. You can listen to John Philip Sousa while you eat it, or watch an all-American movie like “Lincoln” when you’re finished. It can be our little secret, a secret that makes your apartment smell like France. On second thought, maybe you should make this tomorrow.
Recipe: Daube de Boeuf (Beef Braised in Red Wine)
Summary: From Saveur Cooks Authentic French
- 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 2″ pieces (this is important: use a ruler so you know how big that actually is)
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 large plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- Bouquet garni made with 3 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf and 3 to 5 peppercorns tied up in cheesecloth
- 1 Tbs. flour
- 2 cups red Côtes de Provence or other dry, hearty red wine
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Put mushrooms in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and set aside. Generously season beef with salt.
- Heat butter and oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan (pieces shouldn’t touch), add beef to the pot and brown on all sides, turning pieces as they brown, for about 15 minutes in all. Remove pieces as done and set aside.
- Lower heat to medium-low and pour off all but a small amount of oil and butter. Add onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pot and coat vegetables with oil.
- Return meat to pot and add bouquet garni. Mix together flour and half the wine with a fork (I used a whisk) in a small bowl, making sure there aren’t any lumps. Stir into pot, then add remaining wine. Cover and simmer over low heat for 2 hours.
- Drain mushrooms, reserving soaking water, then rinse and roughly chop mushrooms. Strain mushroom water through a coffee filter (this is important as there’s often dirt), then add mushrooms and strained soaking water to pot. Simmer for 1 hour more, then remove bouquet garni and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over buttered noodles or polenta and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
In case you’re wondering why my pictures look more plentiful than the recipe, that’s because I doubled everything. As many of you know, stew tastes even better the next day, so you’ll want leftovers.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 3 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4