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Master Class: Beef Bourguignon

Though it may seem time-consuming, all home cooks—from beginners to masters—should learn how to make a well-executed Beef Bourguignon. Author and teacher Madeline Kamman shows you step-by-step how to marinate the meat, prepare the braise, make the spaetzle, and finish the dish with a rich sauce. 

Fine Cooking Issue 37
Photo: Ben Fink
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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.

Drying the meat means better browning, which ultimately gives more flavor to the sauce.
Sautéing the aromatics until softened releases their flavors.

As you review the recipe, a few ingredients may strike you as odd. I’ll explain them.

The secret ingredient. Pork rind, scraped of fat, gives this beef braise its voluptuous sauce

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.

Pressing on the vegetable solids during straining extracts as much liquid—and flavor—as possible.
A final strain of the defatted sauce removes protein particles that coagulated during the reduction—no pressing this time.

Beef Bourguignon


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  • codeneverlies | 01/20/2022

    I made this recipe a few days ago and it is amazing, and amazingly hard to make. I got rave feedback from my friends. It's worth the time for a special or holiday meal.

    I just read about this chef's bio and it is pretty amazing. She never stopped learning and began graduate studies in French literature at age 70!

    I think it's funny that she got into a tiff with Julia Child. As a boy growing up in the Boston area in the 60s, Child taught my mom to cook and in turn she taught me.

    I am looking forward to learning more about this amazing chef.

  • gremolata | 02/20/2021

    Madeleine was born and bred into the culture of fine French Cooking and she knew things others had not yet learned from their experience. Her experience led her to teaching and some of fher students have Michelin stars.She changed the lives of many with her classes into a life long study and pursuit of her ideas about food.

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