Just before our Texas years Eddie & I lived in an old Columbus, Ohio suburb called Clintonville. Very college town professor style complete with a thriving Community Co-Op, which is currently endangered, not half a block away from our home. While at the time restaurant challenged, it’s a great neighborhood. We spent many-many-many evenings together with friends enjoying conversations, dining and laughing all through the night there.
It was one Christmas, after our friend Nick’s mother had died, when the weather was particularly brutal forcing him to spend his first Christmas alone and away from his family home of Toledo. I remember that Eddie & I were struggling with our own challenges, like we all do, that year and thus looking forward to a warm and cozy meal. With him at work pulling some grueling retail I decided to try Beef Bourguignon for the first time; and this was well before the charming food movie “Julie and Julia.” Nick called and told us what was going on when we extended our open invitation for him to join us. He made it across the City along with our friend John that night. All while snow continued to fall, deepening upon old drifts on the narrow already icy streets of Crestview Rd under the pink Ohio Winter night sky.
It wasn’t heart healthy but the meal was a true celebration of friendship. There was something in the nuances of each of our family memories along with echoes of long departed friends laughter under the glow of a properly lit Christmas tree floating in the steam above our aromatic plates of Beef Bourguignon. It was a little bit of magic that Christmas Eve in the sharing of the experience. Together.
Since then, every time I make this dish I remember that night. The emotion of celebration amongst friends in joyful company.
The recipe that follows is the best template I’ve found so far. I made some “grandma” style notes in-line.
Happy Holidays along whatever traditions you follow.
- 1 tablespoon good olive oil
- 8 ounces dry cured center cut apple-wood smoked bacon, diced (I use flat strips and then remove before serving – it’s all about the flavor of the fat)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes (lightly salt and pepper then brown)
- 1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
- 2 yellow onions, sliced
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves – use 5 to 10)
- 1/2 cup Cognac
- 1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir (use anything that tastes good – not sweet but dry and full bodied – does not have to be expensive)
- 1 can (2 cups) beef broth (I used fresh vegetable stock)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1 bunch fresh oregano tied with twine
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided (be liberal here)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 pound frozen whole onions (I never use these but they look pretty in photos)
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced (again… be liberal)
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven.
- Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned.
- Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
- Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
- In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides.
- Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
- Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
- Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol.
- Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices.
- Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat.
- Add the tomato paste and thyme.
- Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.
- Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew.
- Add the frozen onions.
- Sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew.
- Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes… season to taste.
- To serve, toast the bread in the toaster or oven. Rub each slice on 1 side with a cut clove of garlic. For each serving, spoon the stew over a slice of bread and sprinkle with parsley. I served mine over garlic mashed potatoes instead of bread.