TT Culinary Institute: Boeuf Bourguignon
This March, we're taking you on a tour of the Old World, with a focus on how traditional European dishes are influencing modern cuisine.
For those of you who didn't grow up in rural Burgundy or don't have a deep love for Julia Child, boeuf bourguignon (see the recipe) is the classic beef braise that's a staple of French Cooking 101. Chunks of beef are simmered in red wine and stock until fork-tender, surrounded by bacon, mushrooms, carrots and pearl onions. The resulting dish? Pure French comfort food.
The epitome of French home cooking, boeuf bourguignon is engraved into the memories of many chefs who were raised on the dish. "I grew up in Alsace, France, and while my mother was a great cook, my father was the best at making dishes like boeuf bourguignon," Antoine Westermann, chef of Le Coq Rico in NYC and Paris, says. "One of my most vivid memories of the dish is being in my childhood kitchen with my father, and all of the chairs in the kitchen would be covered with his homemade egg noodles—which look like tagliatelle and were always served with his boeuf bourguignon—that he would hang on the back of all the kitchen chairs to dry."
While individual families might have their own twist, or noodle tradition, this communal dish is as much about family as it is about food. For Catherine and Rachel Allswang, the mother-daughter duo who run Brooklyn's Le Garage, the flavors of boeuf bourguignon evoke tasting "memories of childhood." Though we aren't exactly French, the feeling is mutual.
Wine-ing Is Allowed
Wine is a crucial part of the flavor profile of this dish. Ina Garten recommends cooking with something you would drink, and Westermann agrees: "My father always said that if you want to make a good bourguignon sauce, you have to use the best wines." Paying homage to the dish's origins, Westermann and the Allswangs both insist on using a Burgundy red, such as a Pinot Noir.
Westermann also distinguishes that while Burgundy is prefered, it is the actual Pinot Noir grape that is so important to this dish, and will on occasion use a Pinot from Oregon or Santa Barbara when making his version.
While the meat is the star, the vegetables play a key supporting role in adding flavor and texture to the dish. Traditional mirepoix is bumped up with pearl onions and chunks of mushrooms. The schism among chefs lies in cooking them separately or stewing them in the braise.
Westermann suggests stewing the vegetables raw before even adding the wine, but the Allswangs disagree. They blanch the vegetables and then braise at the very end to pick up the flavor without overcooking.
We met somewhere in the middle. Instead of blanching, we sautéed the vegetables in butter to caramelize before stewing them in the pot for the final half hour of cooking. The resulting dish is full of tender vegetables that add sweetness to the braise, while not falling apart texturally.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
"Invest in a good, cast-iron Dutch oven to maintain an even cooking temperature and make sure the liquid doesn't evaporate too much during the cooking process," Westermann insists. This ties into the Allswangs advice of making sure you get a good sear on the beef (which should always be chuck, according to these chefs). This is key to the dark color and rich flavor of the dish.
Once you get simmering, cook low and slow (and covered!). This allows for the connective tissue in the beef to break down and any gelatin to release, which thickens the sauce. Westermann adds that he prefers to serve it the next day, letting the flavors blend overnight.
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