There’s nothing quite like a rich casserole on a winter’s evening, brimming with good ingredients and full of flavour, to warm the soul as well as the stomach. Boeuf Bourguignon is such a great classic, and like all classics, it’s a well-worn favourite for a good reason: it’s incredibly delicious. When I was coming up with my own favourite cookery books for my Top Ten Cookery Books series, I realised that some of my old books hadn’t stood the test of time and I no longer, or rarely, used them. One I always get out when making Boeuf Bourguignon is French Cookery by Helge Rubinstein. Published in 1979, it was one of the first books I ever commissioned as an editor at Methuen. It contains all the classic French recipes you might think of, presented in a simple, straightforward way that’s easy to follow and will result in just the kind of dish you’d expect in a traditional French bistro.
Like much of my cooking, the decision to make this came about from a sequence of events: a day trip to Wimereux and being in a bit of a French mood and wanting to cook something to go with the special potatoes – Ratte du Touquet – I’d brought back. I also had a bottle of red wine open that was still drinkable but needing using up – so what better thing to do with it than cook a beef casserole? (Tip: don’t use wine that is no longer drinkable in cooking or it will just spoil your food and make it taste vinegary.) I decided to make it the day before it was to be eaten as the flavour seems to get even richer for being left for 24 hours.
I bought beef in The Village Butcher at the top of Richmond Hill. Matt’s meat is wonderful and I always want to head there when cooking anything special. When I told him what I was cooking, he offered me a pig’s trotter to put in the casserole to thicken it with the natural gelatine rather than using flour. This was a first for me, but Matt told me what to do and when to add it … and it’s a great addition to the recipe.
Cut 750g stewing beef into large chunks and season well with salt and pepper. (If not using a pig’s trotter, toss in a little flour at this time and shake off excess before frying.) Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with about 25g butter in a large frying pan. Once hot, seal the cubes of meat so they start to brown a little to bring a nice caramelised and deep flavour to the meat. You may have to do this in 2 or 3 batches. Don’t put too many pieces in the pan at once or it will steam rather than fry. Once the meat is nicely browned, lift it out and put in a casserole dish.
When all the meat is browned and in the casserole, add 2 tablespoon of brandy to the juices in the frying pan. If you’re feeling adventurous you can light the pan to flame the brandy – otherwise, just let the alcohol burn off. Then add about half a bottle of good red – preferably Burgundy – wine. Bring just to the boil then pour over the meat. Now wipe the pan clean with some kitchen towel, add a little more olive oil and butter and once hot, put in about 50g lardons or chopped streaky bacon and brown a little. Now add 1 finely chopped medium onion, 1 finely chopped medium carrot, 1 finely chopped stick of celery and a crushed clove of garlic. Stir well and fry gently until it all starts to brown very slightly, then add to the meat in the casserole dish. Add a bouquet garni or sprinkle over some good quality mixed herbs; season with salt and black pepper. Now tuck the pig’s trotter, if using, into the side (Matt chopped it in half for me). Stir everything together. If the wine doesn’t quite cover
everything, top up with some stock or water. Put in a low oven (150C, 130Fan) to cook slowly and gently for 2 to 3 hours. The time it takes depends on the quality of your meat and it’s hard to be exact. But check it after a couple of hours. Once the meat is almost done, fry about 250g of mushrooms in butter and add for the last few minutes of cooking. Traditionally, button mushrooms are used but they are usually those white flavourless ones I have an aversion to, so I bought tasty chestnut mushrooms and cut them in half. Also traditionally, browned tiny onions are added halfway through, but I rarely bother with that – unless I’m cooking for a posh dinner party. There’s already plenty of onion in for flavour.
I left my Boeuf Bourguignon for the next day (putting it in the fridge once completely cooled) but it’s still going to taste great if you eat it straight away. Remove the pig’s trotter before serving though, checking for any bits of bone that may have broken off it into the lovely gravy. I served it with the steamed Ratte du Touquet, tossed in butter and fresh chopped mint, a celeriac puree and broccoli. It really was wonderfully rich in flavour and absolutely delicious – and Matt’s beef was stunningly tender and tasty making it all the better. This is one classic dish that I know I will never tire of and a great family favourite.
Update 2018: Sadly The Village Butcher is now closed.