Published March 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.
Most recipes for this French classic require you to stand at the stove tediously batch-searing beef and sautéing vegetables. But what if the whole operation could move to the oven?
Making traditional boeuf bourguignon is a daylong affair. Most recipes, Julia Child’s included, come with a serious time commitment: roughly 40 minutes of browning bacon lardons and batch-searing beef, in addition to the lengthy time (about 3 hours) for braising the beef and preparing the “garnish” of browned pearl onions and sautéed button mushrooms.
We wanted to revise the old-school technique, eliminating some of the fuss and cutting down on time while staying true to this stew’s bold, sumptuous profile.
We decided to start with the original and see where we could pare down. We also incorporated a couple of tweaks from other test kitchen beef stew recipes: salting the meat (well-marbled chuck-eye roast is our go-to for stews) for 30 minutes seasons it and helps it retain moisture during cooking. We beefed up the lackluster commercial broth we were using with umami enhancers like anchovy paste and porcini mushrooms. We then added a couple of packets of powdered gelatin to build body.
We wanted to pare down on time even more, though, so we turned to our roasting pan. It would be plenty deep to contain the stew, and its generous surface area would ensure that the braising liquid pooled less deep, exposing more of the beef chunks for better browning. We then realized we could crank the oven to 500 degrees and get the pork pieces crispy before adding the beef. The salt pork could also serve as a platform for the beef chunks to sit on as they cooked.
Now that the oven was doing most of the flavor-development work, we wanted to pare down the time-consuming garnish steps, too. We spread the onions and mushrooms on a baking sheet with a pat of butter and slid the sheet onto the lower of the two oven racks while the salt pork and beef scraps cooked above in the roasting pan. Tossing the vegetables with a touch of sugar before roasting deepened their caramelized color and flavor. The only matter left unattended? Punching up the wine flavor. Adding part of another bottle to the braising liquid seemed extravagant, and the flavor wasn’t much better. A more successful—and economical—solution was to hold back part of the wine until the final reduction of the sauce, which left the flavor noticeably brighter.
Our recipe manages to shave 45 minutes off the traditional boeuf bourguignon preparation time, while producing a stew whose flavors are remarkably similar to the original.list of recipes