As we get into the depths of winter, when the snow starts to pile up and it becomes too cold and bitter to venture out for long, it’s a good time to make hearty meals that cook slowly through the course of a lazy weekend day. Stews that warm the air with their gentle heat and meaty aromas always bring a sense of comfort that help me get through some of our longest winter days.
I admire those folks who make the most of this time of year and get out there to ski and run and do other activities that I lose all motivation to even consider after the first whack of cold air stings my face. If I’m going to exercise, it’s going to be inside somewhere heated. The brisk two-minute walk from my car to office this morning was longer than I’d like to spend in negative temperatures.
While I’m hiding inside, I’ll plan my garden, which is in need of a redesign this year, as the wood in my raised beds is starting to rot away. With the motivation of a new year behind me, maybe I’ll watch enough YouTube videos to learn how to construct a new patio and front walkway when a faraway spring arrives in June. I’ll also sit down and finally complete those various online courses I’ve signed up for over the years, so I can learn how to use Lightroom like a pro, master the top 100 shortcuts to Excel, or re-learn Italian through an app on my phone. Not to mention, I need to get going on my goal of reading 34 books in 2019.
No doubt, there is much to get done even on the dreariest of days, and especially if a stew can cook away at the same time with minimal attention. Beef stew is such a comforting classic, it’s hard to go wrong. Keeping in mind that the slower the cook, the more tender the beef will be. A stew is the perfect way to take advantage of a cheaper cut of meat that in many other cases would prove tough and dry.
Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon is one of my favorite stews. Yet, like many of the recipes in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” it comes across as more complicated and time consuming than necessary. Julia made French cooking accessible to American home cooks when her book was published, but it doesn’t always feel practical with the limitations on our time these days.
I always try to approach cooking with integrity and feasibility, especially if I expect anyone to recreate what I make in their own kitchens at home. That’s what I’ve done with her recipe here. I don’t pretend to know better, just that most people I know don’t like to bother with anything that appears fussy. For the most part, the ingredients remain the same, with adjustments in the amounts and methods. What’s most important to the dish is the red wine. Then, the bacon, pearl onions and mushrooms.
Whether you make this for a quiet night in or while having friends over for dinner this winter, this is the stew that will remind you that the best part of the cold are the opportunities to warm up.
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 slices bacon, roughly chopped
2 pounds stewing beef, cut into large cubes
1 large onion, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
12 ounces pearl onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups red wine, such as Pinot Noir
2-3 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
2 bay leaves
A small bunch of parsley
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Heat the olive oil in large oven-safe pot or Dutch oven. Something with a heavy bottom and lid will work well. Cook the bacon in the oil until crispy, about 5 minutes. When done, use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.
Pat the beef dry with some paper towels, as this will help it brown. Use tongs to carefully place the beef in the hot oil, a few pieces at a time, to brown on each side. Just be careful not to crowd the meat or it won’t brown. Afterward, remove the beef from the pot and add to the plate with the bacon and finish browning the remaining pieces.
Now cook the onion and carrot in the same oil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms, pearl onions and garlic to the pot with the salt and pepper, and cook another few minutes until everything is golden brown. Return the beef and bacon to the pot, sprinkle with the flour and toss to coat. Cook a couple more minutes over medium high heat.
Stir in the wine, broth, tomato paste, rosemary and bay leaves. Start with two cups of the broth and add more only if needed to keep the beef submerged. Put the cover on the pot and place it in the bottom half of the hot oven. Allow to cook, covered, for about two and a half hours or until the meat is tender to your liking. You can check on it occasionally to give everything a stir and make sure the stew is at a low simmer. If not simmering, increase the heat on your oven up by 25 degrees.
When done, taste and add more salt, if needed. Remove the parsley leaves from the stems, chop them up and sprinkle over the stew. Serve over noodles, rice or mashed potatoes.