Boeuf Bourguignon – Boozy beef stew (from Ripailles by Reynaud, 2008)

The people in my local corner shop think I’m an alcoholic.  Every time I go in there, I ask for a miniature of cognac.  They have started to assume it.  “Do you need a cognac?”  Not “would you like?”, but “do you need?”.  The question is so heavy with accusation it should be a contestant on The Biggest Loser.  Behind butter and cream, alcohol must be the third most used ingredient in French cooking… and we’re expected to consider them an authority on staying slim???

I can’t think of a better winter warming dish for such an unseasonably and irritatingly cold February than beef bourguignon.  The incomparable Julia Child said of it that it is “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man”.  She wasn’t wrong.  Rich, deep, hearty big flavours; beef so tender it falls apart and melts in your mouth; and a double helping of one of French cuisine’s holy triumvirate, booze… in this case, cognac and red wine.  Red wine makes everything better: food, a tough day, even your heart.  I tell you what though, most of a bottle of wine and large splash of cognac for lunch and you’ve got yourself a warm happy glow.

But it is a long haul dish, approximately JFK to London Heathrow in my case.  If you’re making it for lunch, you’ll need to get up at 8am to make a start.  That’s dedication for a Sunday morning.  Bleary-eyed and barely awake, I took my brand new casserole dish and got the beef marinating in the booze, garlic and thyme.  In all the recipes I read for this dish, the marinating couldn’t be stressed enough; it softens the meat, makes it tender, and packs it with flavour; it’s essential, for between 3 hours and 2 days.

After another 2 hours of cooking, I served it with creamy mash made from Charlotte potatoes, milk, double cream and garlic with seasoning, and a glass of Saint Emilion.  The outcome was astounding, and I can’t disagree with Julia Child; it was out of this world.  The tastiest, heartiest, dreamiest… I’m making it sound like Brad Pitt, but it’s just as bloody gorgeous.

Seriously gorgeous food.

Seriously gorgeous food.

Need This (for 2)

400g beef chunks / 500ml full red wine / 1 sprig thyme / 2 garlic cloves / 1 ½ tbsp. cognac / sunflower oil / 1 tbsp plain flour / 300ml chicken stock / bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaf) / 1 carrot / 6 silverskin onions or 2 large echalion shallots chopped / 50g button mushrooms / 50g bacon lardons / salt & pepper

Do This

In casserole dish, add beef, wine, garlic, cognac & thyme / Cover & chill in fridge 3 hours minimum / Drain meat & keep marinade in a bowl / 2tbsp oil in casserole dish on medium heat / Brown meat 20 mins / Salt & pepper & flour / Put kettle on to make stock / 2-3 mins cook & stir / Add stock & marinade / Boil / Skim off foam / Add bouquet garni / Reduce heat to simmer, part covered, 1 hour 45 mins / Stir now & then / 50 mins before end heat 1tbsp oil in pan medium low heat / Add chopped carrot & onions til golden 10 mins / Add to casserole dish / 10 mins before end heat 1 tbsp oil in pan medium low heat / Add mushrooms & bacon til golden 10 mins / Add to casserole dish & season / Serve

Marinating - all of that liquid is alcohol. ZOWEEE.

Marinating – all of that liquid is alcohol. ZOWEEE.

Cooking down in the casserole.

Cooking down in the casserole.