You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients. ~Julia Child
One of my favorite possessions is my grandfather's copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the masterpiece of a cookbook that made Julia Child a household name in the early 1960s. As I flipped through it after mom passed it down to me, I saw notes scratched in his precise engineer’s handwriting on the page that contained the boeuf bourguignon recipe. He made a few slight alterations to the recipe, but Julia would have been fine with that. She mentions before launching into the recipe in the book that there is more than one way to arrive at a good final product.
Granddaddy was, as I’ve mentioned previously, somewhat a Renaissance man. After retiring from his position as an engineer with General Electric in St. Petersburg in the early 1970s, he and Grammy moved up to Northwest Florida. They bought some land on Ponce de Leon Street on St. Joe Beach, and he began doing all the things he’d wanted to do for years: oil painting, learning to play guitar, photography, gardening, and the like. Cooking, certainly, was one of his passions in those years.
An avid PBS watcher and supporter, he had watched Julia Child’s show since it had debuted in the early 1960s, so it was no surprise that he collected her books and tried to master the art of French cooking for himself in retirement, including that luscious, wine-enriched beef stew.
Making Julia's boeuf bourguignon is a long process, as the cookbook details. I enjoy making things like this that are "project recipes," though, when I have a lazy weekend day to devote to it. Since I love to cook, fussing over a big Dutch oven full of simmering, flavorful French beef stew is a pleasure. The combining of the ingredients is like creating a piece of art: the bright orange carrots, the yellow onions, the red wine, the chunks of savory seared meat, all combine to make a masterpiece for the table.
Since most of us don’t have the kind of time it takes to make a luscious stew like that during the week, I have created other versions of beef stew, much simpler ones, that nonetheless satisfied my family and myself, especially on a cool February night.
This is my favorite variations, wherein I actually make a soup that contains the elements of beef stew. I wrote it for ease of use in a slow-cooker. It simmers all day while you work or study or whatever you do all day, and then when you get home, you find your home filled with a wonderful aroma, and your slow cooker filled with the perfect, delicious supper. It's excellent to serve with garlic toast, cornbread, or even biscuits to dunk into the savory broth.
I’ll follow this recipe with Julia’s original recipe, in case you’d like to dive in and experience it for yourself.
Slow-cooker beef and vegetable soup
One pound stew meat, cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Two 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable or beef broth (may use water, in a pinch)
3 red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into cubes
3 medium-sized carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup minced celery or 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1. Place oil in Dutch oven, and warm over medium-high heat. Brown meat in the oil on all sides.
2. Place browned meat in slow cooker.
3. Add tomatoes, broth, carrots, potatoes, onion, thyme, celery and salt to cooker. (Do not add peas yet.)
4. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or on high for 4 to 5 hours.
5. Stir in thawed peas and allow to heat in the broth for 10 minutes, or until completely heated through.
6. Taste for saltiness, and add a bit more if needed.
Here’s the original recipe, for those of you who’d like to give it a try:
Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon:
* 6 ounces bacon
* 1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
* 3 pounds lean stewing beef , cut into 2-inch cubes
* 1 sliced carrot
* 1 sliced onion
* 1 tsp. salt
* 1/4 tsp. pepper
* 2 Tbsp. flour
* 3 cups full-bodied, young red wine, such as a Chianti
* 2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
* 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
* 2 cloves mashed garlic
* 1/2 tsp. thyme
* Crumbled bay leaf
* Blanched bacon rind
* 18 to 24 small white onions , brown-braised in stock
* 1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms , sautéed in butter
* Parsley sprigs
Remove rind from bacon, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.
Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
When the melt is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.
For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.
Enjoy! Let me know how you like this or any recipe I've shared with you here; you can reach me via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com. I'd love to hear from you!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph". She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.