When well-executed, Beef Bourguignon is a truly glorious dish, perfect as the centerpiece of a dinner among friends. The concept is simple: beef is marinated overnight in red wine and aromatic vegetables and then braised in the oven with the marinade, stock, and vegetables until the meat is succulent and tender. About 15 minutes before serving, garnishes of tiny onions, mushrooms, and bacon are added to the beef and to the robust mahogany sauce created during the cooking.
I learned to cook in France during the German occupation, a time when food and gas shortages forced many households to return to cooking on the hearth. On the rare occasion when my mother made beef stew, she used a thick old copper pot called a braisière (or brazier), which sported two lids, one deep and concave, the second more decorative. She filled the pot with seared meat, aromatics, stock, and wine, and fitted the concave lid inside so it rested just a hair above the ingredients in the pot. The pot was then nestled into a bank of smoldering coals, known as braises, and the concave lid was filled with more coals (later on, when we had a gas stove, we filled the lid with boiling water). Then the second lid was set on top.
In the old days, we larded our beef with seasoned pork fat back to prevent it from being dry after being braised. There is no longer a need for this, as long as you choose a cut with either a lot of collagen, such as the blade roast, or one with visible marbling.
As you review the recipe, a few ingredients may strike you as odd. I’ll explain them.
While the beef is braising, you’ll prepare what we call the garnishes, though don’t be misled by the term: these are not plate adornments but rather integral parts of the dish. The garnishes are mushrooms, onions, and, traditionally, fresh pork brisket, cut into short, thin strips, called lardoons. Since pork brisket is close to impossible to get in this country, I use the best slab bacon I can find, blanching it (starting in cold water) to remove some of the smokiness. The lardoons of bacon should be cooked to be as golden as possible all around, but never crisp to the core.