Boeuf bourguignon is so much more than just another beef stew. This classic French dish, made so popular by a certain Ms. Julia Child, is the kind of stew that moves you from one level of home cooking to the next. The aroma alone — the deeply savory scent of onions, slow-cooked beef, and red wine — is enough to make your eyes roll skyward and your knees go weak. Make boeuf bourguignon once and you'll wonder why anyone ever bothers making anything else.
Boeuf bourguignon is all about building flavor; layer upon layer upon layer of delicious flavor. Start with bacon — render all the bacon fat, then use the grease to sear the cubes of beef and cook the vegetables. Searing the beef and using a portion of the wine to deglaze the pan adds two more layers to the dish. After an afternoon of simmering (a method which is its own kind of flavor booster), the bacon bits and tender mushrooms get stirred into the stew for the grand finale.
The end result of all this careful attention is a stew of surpassing richness and complexity — a stew to impress a date, celebrate a winter birthday, or even serve up for Christmas. Choose your friends wisely when preparing them boeuf bourguignon, because you will likely find them at your door again next week with begging bowls in hand.
You can prepare boeuf bourguignon in the slow cooker or in a Dutch oven, both with excellent results. Either way, be prepared for a bit of prep work. This is not the kind of dish where the ingredients can be dumped together in a pot, but rather one that takes some time at the stove before you can "set it and forget it."
Making Bouef Bourguignon In Your Vessel of Choice
When I make this in the slow cooker, I often prepare the meat and veggies the night before and then put everything in the slow cooker the next morning so they can simmer all day. When I prepare it in the Dutch oven, I start early so I can be sure it will be ready by dinner — or better yet, I make it the day ahead. The stew reheats well and is one of those dishes that tastes even better the second or third day.
What about the pearl onions?
Classically, bouef bourguignon is finished with pearl onions as well as mushrooms. I think there's quite enough going on with this dish without either going to the trouble of preparing pearl onions myself, or falling back on frozen onions, so I skip them. This said, if you are a stickler for tradition or just love pearl onions, add a pound of them along with the mushrooms at the end of cooking.
Slow-Cooker Boeuf Bourguignon
8 ounces thick-cut bacon (5 to 6 slices), diced
2 1/2 to 3 pounds beef chuck roast, round roast, or other similar cut, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for the meat
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups red wine, divided (see Recipe Notes)
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, diced
3 medium celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup low-sodium chicken or beef broth, plus more if necessary (see Recipe Notes)
1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced
To serve (optional):
Chopped parsley, to garnish
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden and crispy. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan into a heatproof bowl and set aside.
Pat the beef cubes dry with paper towels and sprinkle them all over with with salt and pepper. Return the skillet to medium-high heat until the bacon fat is shimmering. Working in batches, add a single layer of beef to the pan and sear on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to the slow cooker or a large bowl. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the wine. Simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the the browned bits are completely loosened. Pour the wine over the seared meat.
Add 1 tablespoon bacon grease to the pan. Repeat with another batch of beef, then deglaze with wine, and continue until all the beef is seared.
When all the meat is seared, add 1 tablespoon bacon grease to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, and cook until softened, about 4 minutes more. Add the garlic and tomato paste, and cook for another minute. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the slow cooker or bowl with the meat.
Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and warm 1 tablespoon bacon grease over medium heat (if no more bacon grease remains substitute with vegetable oil). Add the mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have release all their liquid, the liquid has evaporated, and the mushrooms are golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a clean bowl and set aside — keep the mushrooms separate from the meat and onion mixture for now.
→ Slow-Cooker Method: Stir the beef cubes and vegetables together in the slow cooker with 1 teaspoon of salt. Tuck the sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf into the mixture. Pour the stock and the remaining wine over the beef and vegetables — the liquid should come about 3/4 of the way to the surface of the ingredients.
Cover the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours. When finished, the beef should fall apart easily with a fork.
→ Oven method: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 300°F. Transfer the beef and vegetable mixture to a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed 6-quart pot with a lid and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Tuck the sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf into the mixture. Pour the stock and the remaining wine over the beef and vegetables — the liquid should not quite cover the beef and vegetables; the ingredients should still be poking from the surface of the liquid. Add additional stock if necessary.
Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, then begin checking the meat every 15 minutes. The dish is done when the meat falls apart easily with a fork. Exact cooking time can vary.
Both methods: Once the meat is cooked, stir in the reserved bacon and mushrooms. Cook with the slow cooker on high or simmer in the Dutch oven over medium heat until the mushrooms are warmed through, about 10 minutes.
Serve in bowls over noodles or with crusty bread on the side. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
- Choosing the wine: I love pinot noir for this dish, but wines from Burgundy or Côtes du Rhône are also excellent. When in doubt, choose a wine that you also like to drink and you can't go wrong.
- Chicken vs. beef broth: You might think beef stock would be a natural choice for this recipe, but I often find store-bought beef stock to be too tinny tasting. Unless you make your own beef stock, I recommend using chicken stock in this recipe.
- Make ahead: The meat and vegetables can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for 3 months.