Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beef Bourginon and No Knead Bread

Full disclosure: I made this way too long ago, but never got around to fully blogging it.  On what was supposed to be a semi-cold and rainy day but actually turned out to be an unseasonably warm one, I decided to make one of the dishes everyone says you need to try with a dutch oven - Beef Bourginon.

For Valentine's Day this year, Nick gave me "Williams Sonoma Cooking at Home" by Chuck Williams, which is supposed to be our generation's "Joy of Cooking."  Unlike most Williams Sonoma cookbooks this one does not have any photos.  Instead, it's just packed full of good stuff, including all sorts of helpful tips for every type of chef. 

The Necessities...

1/2 lb. of salt pork (diced)
Olive oil as needed
8 Shallots (minced)
2 yellow onions (finely diced)
2 carrots peeled  (finely diced)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
about 2 cups all-purpose flour
salt, ground pepper and nutmeg
3 lbs well-marbled beef chuck (2" cubed)
1/4 cup cognac
2 cups beef broth
2 fresh thyme sprigs
3 cups dry red wine
1 bay leaf
5 tbls. unsalted butter
18-24 pearl onions (peeled)
2 tbls. sugar
1 lb white or cremini mushrooms (I used a mixture)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

As always, to start I took the initial ingredients...

and chopped them all up.

Having never used salt pork before I was cautiously optimistic.  I had heard that you could use bacon in place of it but since I easily found the salt pork at Whole Foods, I went for it.  I sauteed the salt pork in a pan for 8-10 minutes and, using a slotted spoon, removed the cubes from the pan and saved for later.  At that point, I added the carrots, onions, shallots, carrots and garlic to the pan and cooked them up for 10 minutes.

Sauteing veggies
Once the veggies were nice and tender I moved them from the pan to the dutch oven. 

Veggies ready and waiting
Meanwhile, on a large plate I mixed up the flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg and coated the cubed beef, shook off the excess flour and then cooked the meat in an oiled pan, adding additional oil to the pan as needed.

Flouring the beef
The tip here is to cook the meat in batches (making sure not to overcrowd the pan).  I cooked the beef cubes until they were just browned on all sides. 

Browning beef cubes
Once the cubes were cooked, they were added to the dutch oven as well.

Next group of ingredients
With the meat now in the dutch oven, I deglazed the saute pan with cognac and a little beef broth, scraping up all the brown bits.

Once the base of this sauce came together, it joined the other cooked ingredients in the dutch oven along with the remaining beef broth, thyme, bay leaf, and wine.

Ready to cook away
With everything combined, the dutch oven went into a 325 degree oven for 3 hours until the beef was tender.

About an hour before the contents of the dutch oven were finished cooking, I went ahead and finished the rest of the bourginon.

Pearl Onions
In a frying pan over medium heat, I melted two tablespoons of butter and added the pearl onions so that they were in a single layer.  The recipe called for fresh raw pearl onions, and while I was trying to stick as close to the recipe as possible, frozen onions were just way easier (Peeling all those tiny onions?  No, thank you.)  Since the onions are already cooked when they're frozen, they cooked on the stove for less than 10 minutes.  I added a half cup of beef broth while the onions were cooking, and when they were done, I transfered them to a bowl and set it aside.

In the same pan, I melted the remaining butter and added the mushrooms.

Mushrooms (my fav)!
I cooked the mushrooms for about five minutes, until tender.  Once this was all done and there was a half hour left for the bourginon to cook, I added the mushrooms and pearl onions to the dutch oven.

30 minutes passed and I pulled the pot out of the oven, removing the bay leaf and the thyme.

So ready!
Finally, I added back the salt pork and chopped up the parsley for garnish.

And, ta-da!!

The beef bourginon was delicious!  The flavors fully developed and you really could taste each of the components - it all worked together so well.  As you can see, this recipe definitely took some time but was well worth it.  Since it turned out to be a very warm day, having the oven on for so long definitely overheated the apartment, but the dish was so yummy that I couldn't really complain.  Next time I would use the salt pork in the beginning but not add it back in, the texture wasn't my favorite.

The bread in the photo is actually homemade and so worth it.  The best part: no kneading required!  A while ago, my co- worker brought in bread she made from "My Bread: Revolutionary No Work, No Knead Bread" by Jim Lahey that was so good, I bought the book immediately.  The recipe takes requires a lot of sitting time, so since we knew we'd be attempting the beef bourginon, we got started the night before.

The Necessities...

3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp instant or active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool water
Additional wheat bran, cornmeal or additional flour

In a glass bowl I mixed the bread flour, salt and yeast.

Dry Ingredients
I added the water to the dry ingredients and with a wooden spoon mixed it all together until I got a sticky dough (about 30 seconds)

Sticky mess
If it does not seem sticky enough, go ahead and add another tablespoon or two of water.  I covered the bowl with a tea towel and let it sit until the dough doubled in size, which takes anywhere between 12-18 hours.  The longer it can sit, the better - this is where it all ferments.

The next day, I generously dusted my counter with flour (I have granite, but a wooden or plastic cutting board would also work) and scrapped the dough onto the surface in one piece. 

Ready to work
The dough will be stringy and sticky, but do not add more flour.  Using my lightly floured hands I lifted the edges of the dough toward the center, nudging and tucking in the edges of the dough to make it round. 

Finally, I placed a cotton or linen tea towel (not terry) on the work surface and generously dusted it with the flour (you can use cornmeal or wheat bran here, but since we always have flour on hand, I went with that) and then gently lifted the dough ball onto the towel so the seam side was down.  If the dough is tacky, you can dust the top with a bit more flour.  I folded the ends of the towel loosely over the dough and let it sit for another 1 or 2 hours until, again, it had doubled in size.

Wrapped up and sitting
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, I preheated the oven to 475 degrees with the rack in the lower third position and put the dutch oven in to heat up.  Once heated, I removed the dutch oven from the oven, uncovered the dough ball, lightly dusted it and plopped it into the pot.

The lid went back on baked for 30 minutes, then baked for another 30 minutes uncovered.

So ready to eat

The verdict?  Delicious!  This comes out looking (and smelling) like something out of one of the little Italian bakeries in the North End.  We've made this bread a dozen times and have always had the same great results.  We even keep plenty of yeast and bread flour on hand now so that we can make a loaf of bread whenever we want.  So far we've only attempted the basic bread recipe, but you can make lots of variations.  Nick's former coworker has made this a bunch of times with whatever was on hand - leftover herbs, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.  The book even has a recipe for chocolate coconut bread, which, as I'm sure you can guess, is on my list to try!

Overall, these were two winning recipes!


  1. Both the bourginon and the bread look fantastic! I could really use a bowl right now - it's still so cold! =)

  2. I love a good beef bourguignon! And I keep planning to try making that no-knead bread, but I still haven't done it. Another thing on the list! It looks so good!


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