How to cook the perfect boeuf bourguignon
There are no shortcuts for this giant of French classical cooking, but that doesnt mean its not manageable. What cuts of beef are best? Can bacon replace salt pork? And how pricey a wine do you need to use?
Its a mystery to me how this giant of the French classical repertoire has escaped the clutches of this column for so long. Richard Olney( another big brute of the Gallic cookery scene) describes boeuf bourguignon as likely the most widely known of all French preparations, while Elizabeth David introduces it as a favourite among those carefully composed, slowly cooked dishes, which are the domain of French homemakers and owner-cooks of modest restaurants rather than of professional chefs.
Sounds manageable. Yet Olney goes on, somewhat worryingly, that beef burgundy surely deserves its reputation or would if the few details essential to its success were more often respected. There is nothing difficult about its preparation, but there are no shortcuts. And David doesnt help the situation, with the airy assertion that such dishes do not, of course, have a rigid formula, each cook interpreting it according to the commission taste.
According to Larousse Gastronomique, la bourguignonne refers to anything( generally poached eggs, meat, fish or sauteed chicken) cooked with red wine and usually garnished with small onions, button mushrooms and pieces of fat bacon. That much we are aware. Everything else, it seems, is up for grabs.
While, like most stews, this will work with almost all slow-cooking cuts, cooks have their own particular predilections. Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham call for well-hung sinewy beef chuck, shoulder or shin perhaps in The Prawn Cocktail Years. Anthony Bourdains Les Halles Cookbook specifies paleron of beef, which, a helpful butcher informs me, entails featherblade. Richard Olneys much lauded French Menu Cookbook indicates Desperate Dan-style heel( which takes a while to track down) and Michel Roux Jrs The French Kitchen opts for braising beef( chuck is good but cheek is best ). Harry Eastwood is also a fan of cheek, writing in Carneval that: My father introduced me to the joys of eating cheeks[ and] it turns out that beef cheeks are the perfect vehicles for a bourguignon since they assimilate all the flavours in the pan and the meat surrenders completely.