Boeuf Bourguignon is a famous beef stew from the French region of Burgundy. The beef is stewed with red wine and served with mushrooms and pearl onions in a rich beefy sauce. I’ve posted before how to make it on the stovetop or using a pressure cooker. It is delicious, if you succeed in stewing the beef such that it becomes tender without drying out. There is an easy way to ensure consistent results, and that is sous-vide cooking. There are a few tricks to do a stew sous-vide, and I’m going to share those with you in this post. Cooking the stew sous-vide will require 24 hours of cooking time, so you should start with this dish on the morning or afternoon the day before you intend to serve this for dinner. (You could also prepare it a week in advance, as once cooked sous-vide it will be pasteurized and will keep quite long in the refrigerator.)
The first one is about browning the meat. Most recipes will tell you to cut the beef into cubes, and then brown the cubes. This means a lot of surface area for browning, which is good for flavor, but also a lot of loss of juices, which dries out the meat. As a compromise, cut the beef in thick slices, brown the slices, and then cut the slices into cubes.
The second one is about reduction. When boeuf bourguignon is cooked traditionally on the stovetop, the beef stock and wine are concentrated through evaporation while the beef is simmering. With sous-vide cooking, the beef simmers inside a vacuum sealed bag, so evaporation is out of the question. This means that the beef stock and wine need to be reduced before cooking sous-vide.
The third one is about what to cook together and what to cook apart. Many traditional recipes will tell you to cook the mushrooms and pearl onions along with the beef in the stew. The drawback of that is that they will lose most of their flavor. And so it is better to cook them separately and include them at the end. It is however a good idea to cook the beef sous-vide with the sauce, as that will allow the flavors to marry.
Of course it is also important to use good beef and good wine. The beef should be marbled, as the intramuscular fat will make the meat more flavorful as well as more succulent. The wine should be good enough to drink. It’s not needed to use a very expensive bottle for cooking as the subtle nuances will get lost, but a thin or acidic wine will not make for a good sauce.
For 8 servings
2 kilos (4.4 lbs) stewing beef, cut into thick slices
100 grams (3.5 oz) bacon or pancetta, diced or cut into lardons
100 grams onion, 100 grams celery, 100 grams carrot, all finely minced (about a cup of each)
2 garlic cloves
500 ml (2 cups) of concentrated beef stock
1 bottle (750 ml) of red wine, preferably red Burgundy
2 bouquet garni of bay leaves, parsley, and thyme
2 Tbsp tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
butter, preferably clarified
beurre manié: 50 grams (3 1/2 Tbsp) soft butter mixed with 50 grams (5 Tbsp) flour
For good browning it is important that the meat is dry, so pat the meat dry with paper towels.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper right before browning. Do not let the seasoned meat sit, as that will draw out the juices and mess with the browning. (The salt, on the other hand, will help with the browning.)
Heat a generous amount of clarified butter in a frying pan. Clarified butter (also known as ghee) is better for browning, as it won’t splatter and won’t burn like regular butter would do. Use a mixture of olive oil and regular butter if you don’t have clarified butter (although it is pretty easy to make your own batch).
When the butter is very hot, add the meat. Brown only one slice at the time.
Brown for about 2 minutes per side over high heat.
Set the meat aside after browning to cool.
When you’ve browned all of the meat, turn down the heat and add the diced bacon or pancetta.
Cook over medium heat until the bacon starts to crisp.
Add the minced onion, carrot, and celery. Season with salt.
Stir over medium heat until the vegetables are golden.
Deglaze the pan with the red wine.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spatula to make sure you include all of the flavor.
Add the two bouquet garni. By tying up the herbs with a piece of string, it is easier to retrieve and discard them later.
Reduce until the red wine has been reduced by half.
Add the beef stock as well.
Bring to a boil again, then reduce to a simmer, and reduce until the sauce has thickened. If you taste it, it should have a full beefy flavor after adjusting the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If not, keep going.
Cut the beef into cubes.
Make sure to add the juices that leaked from the beef to the sauce, as they contain a lot of flavor that shouldn’t go to waste.
Now you have three options for vacuum sealing.
If you own a chamber vacuum sealer, allow both meat and sauce to cool completely before vacuum sealing them together.
If using a ziplock bag, you can combine meat and sauce while still warm, put the mixture in the bag, and seal it with the water displacement method.
If using a ‘clamp’ style vacuum sealer, freeze the sauce and then vacuum seal it together with the meat.
Once vacuum sealed…
…cook the boeuf bourguignon sous-vide for 24 hours at 74C/165F. The cooking time is not precise, it will be fine anywhere between 18 and 32 hours or so. So there is quite a bit of leeway.
You could also cool it inside the bags in ice water, refrigerate, and then reheat for 2 hours at 74C/165F to serve.
The sauce will need to be thickened with beurre manié before serving. Combine soft butter and flour and mix them thoroughly with a fork. Pour the liquid from the bag into a casserole or Dutch oven, and leave the meat in the bag for now. Add the beurre manié to the sauce, and whisk to mix. Now bring the sauce to a boil, stirring, and it will thicken. You can always add more beurre manié if you’d like to thicken it some more.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, then add the meat to the sauce together with the braised pearl onions and sautéed mushrooms. Allow everything to heat through for a couple of minutes, then serve on preheated plates (by itself, or with bread, potatoes, or rice).
A full-bodied red Burgundy is of course the best choice to accompany this Burgundian classic.