Two Takes on a Classic Dish


A cookery post. Actually 2 cookery posts in one. First off the « nice » lifestyle version and then the real life version. Enjoy. Just to say, that if you don’t want to go to the lengths of making a Bœuf Bourgignon you can actually buy the stuff in tins and very nice it is too.

Every country seems to have its own « take » on stew. The Hungarians have got their goulash, the Belgians eat Waterzoi, and the French have Bœuf Bourgignon. Though there are national variants in seasoning, the principle is always pretty much the same – drown your meat in wine or beer until it gts alcohol poisoning and then cook it for hours until it is tender. As for veg – potatoes, carrots, or turnips seem to be the staple for all stews.

Tonight in our house, we’re having a bœuf bourgignon – meat drowned in Burgundy wine, served with carrots and spuds.

Here’s my recipe.

First off for a beef stew, you need beef. How much beef you need is purely subjective, it all depends on the size of your pot and just how long you actually want to spend eating your stew. I normally shove in a kilo of beef – that’s enough for everyone to have a decent portion for dinner with enough left over for lunch or dinner the next day.

What sort of meat do you use ? Well I suppose you might call it stewing steak, in France we call it Bourgignon. You buy it in huge lumps from the butcher’s, though I’ll be getting mine from the supermarket.  Our local butcher is open of a Sunday morning, bit it always takes hours to get served, and frankly, my butcher charges the earth. I supose I don’t really mind paying the price, it’s the waiting I can’t stand. My felllow customers take ages to choose what they want, and then they feel obliged to give their entire life story to the butcher. Thereagain, this is a familly butcher, run by the same family for generations and serving generations of the same families. Chances are that the grandparents of today’s clients were coming here, served by the grandparents of the current butcher. It’s reassuring, but it does come at a price.

The other annoying thing is the diversity and quantities of what people buy –  one slice of ham, two sausages, one small steak …. It takes ages, as each item is weighed and wrapped – though I suppose there is one advantage with the butcher, you are not obliged to buy  vast  quantities of meat, half of which you’ll probably end up chucking out.

Anyway, my meat comes from the supermarket – however, I’m not buying the pre-packaged stuff. Far too much meat and there is also the question of traceability – As I trundle through the aisles with my trolley, I note that there is rather a lot of New Zealand lamb on spécial offer. I have nothing against New Zealand lamb, but it just seems to have come a tad too far to consider buying.

I go for a compromise on the meat, getting it from the butcher counter. Yes, there is a real butcher in the supermarket, and he sells locally raised and slaughtered meat. Slightly cheaper than my downtown butcher who actually raises and slaughters his own  – hence the price differential.

So, I’ going for a medium price cut. The cheap meat is cheap, but it is tough, slightly fatty and sinewy. It will be okay if I cook it for hours, but I try to consider energy costs in my cooking equation. I’ll get the cheap meat for around 4 to 5 Euros a kilo, but i’ll probably have to end up using an angle grinder to cuti t, and then I’ll have to cook it for nearly four hours to be edible.  With a kilo of the medium priced 7 to 8 Euro meat, I can cut my cooking time down to three hours.

While at the supermarket, buy all the other ingredients – carrots, potatoes, bacon ,onions, parsely, mushrooms and several bottles of wine, most of which you will drink while the beef is cooking, and the rest (if there is any left) you will drown the beef in until it dies of alcohol poisoning.

Start cooking.

Chop up the meat, and then …  Well, there are two schools of thought on this.  If you have time, you can marinate the meat for a few hours in the red wine, or you can simply take the meat and seal it. Either by cooking it  up at  a high heat in a large pot with salt, pepper. Or I can first roll my meat in flour and then seal it. The flour helps keep the flavour in. No matter what you do, you’ll also shove in a few herbs like laurel, thyme, basil etc.

Notice I haven’t fried the onion in. My onion is destined for other uses. I’ll peel it and then pic kit with cloves and pop it in when the meat is simmering.

Okay, the meat is sizzling away, time to turn down the gas, drown it in wine and leave it to simmer for a couple of hours. At this point I’ll pop in my clove covered onion, a cuple of cloves of garlic and … well you’ve got two hours to whatever you don of a Sunday afternoon. Mind you, I would avdise that you check the meat occasionally and add wine from time to time so that it doesn’t dry out.

After two hours, it’s time to add the bacon preferably the streaky variety. Cut th strips into bits and shove them into the pot. How much bacon you put in just dépends on how much you like the stuff. Cook on for another half hour.

Next up the veg. Peel your carrots an potatoes and shove them into the pot. Don’t go slcing them in to fussy or faddy little pièces – keep them in nice big chunks. You(reg oing to put tha carrots in to cook first, they take longer than the spuds. After ten minutes, pop in your potatoes and leave the whole concoction about another 20 minutes to cook – the time though dépends on how firm or flufft you like your potatoes.

There you go foks, it’s read to eat. Serve with a decent red wine. Just a final thought. Use a decent wine to cook with. Cheap wine makes a lousy stew.

And now for an alternative take, which is probably closer to the reality.

Boeuf Bourgignon is a posh name for beef stew. Of course, being French, you cook your beef in wine.

Here’s how you make it.

First buy the meat from the supermarket. There’s nowhere to park oustide the butcher’s, besides there’s a long line of pensioners all queueing to buy their weekly meat supply, which means by the time they have given their life story to the butcher and actually decided what they want to buy, it will already be tomorrow, and I want to cook this for our evening meal

While at the supermarket, buy all the other ingredients – carrots, potatoes, bacon,onions, parsely mushrooms and several bottles of wine, most of which you will drink while the beef is cooking, and the rest (if there is any left) you will drown the beef in until it dies of alcohol poisoning.

Drive home through the lunchtime traffic and when you get home, clear up all the shit from breakfast that you didn’t have time to clear up before you went to work

When you have finished the housework, have a cigarette break

Start cooking.

Chop up the meat, shove it in a large pot with salt, pepper. This being France, you’ll also shove in a few herbs like laurel, thyme, basil etc.

Drown the meat in a bottle of burgundy wine, light the gas, shove the lid on and leave to cook for three hours or until meat is tender and not burned.

Go off and blog, remembering to come back occasionally and check that the beef is not burning

Have a cup of tea and another ciggy break,

Stir the beef . Add more wine. Don’t drink any yet. It’s too early, and you don’t want to be stinking of booze when you go to collect your daughter from school.

Stir the beef again.

Make another cup of tea, have a ciggy, go upstairs and blog.

When you smell burning, rush downstairs, stir the stew and switch off the gas and open the kitchen window

More blogging

Go downstairs, close the window. Chuck your veg in the pot, switch the gas on.

Go upstairs to blog until the house stinks of gas.

Go down, open the kitchen window to evacuate the gas. Do not have a cigarette. When the gas has gone, switch on the gas again, but this time light it.

Let everything cook until it smells cooked. Go to collect daughter from school, help her with homework as long as your nerves can stand it or until you are both screaming at each other.

Meanwhile the Beef stew buring.

Order some pizzas and have a glass of wine.

No wine left, it is all in the « dead » stew.