Similar to classics Beef Bourguignon or Daube a la Provencal, this luscious, hearty beef stew simmers low and slow yielding meat so tender you can cut it with a fork. Braised in red wine with onions, carrots, porcini mushrooms and topped off with a bit of cheese, it’s a wonderful wintertime dish.
If you’ve seen the move Julie and Julia, which I’m sure you have if you’re reading this food blog, you’ll recall how Julia Child taught America to pat meat dry before browning. Otherwise it won’t brown. In any stewed or braised dish, browning the meat and developing that layer of caramelized flavor is important.
Here’s what you do: Start with your pot already hot over medium to medium-high heat. Flick in a few drops of water and if you hear them immediately sizzle, you’re good to go. Arrange the meat in a single layer (you should hear a chorus of sizzling) knowing you’ll likely need to work in batches. Make sure each cube of meat has good contact with the pan and then leave them alone – don’t be tempted to get all chef-y right now. Let them cook for 3-4 minutes per side. After 3-4 minutes, check one. If looks deliciously browned and nicely caramelized, then flip and brown the other side and continue checking and flipping each piece. If the first piece needs more time then give everyone another minute and check again.
Just make sure not to scorch the bottom of the pan during the time it takes to brown all the meat. If your pan is beginning to scorch, immediately lower the heat and rotate the pan so the ‘hot spot’ is over a perhaps cooler section of the burner or flame. Once your meat is done browning you’re going to ‘de-glaze’ the pan with the reserved marinate, scraping up what should be browned bits into your sauce. If those are burned bits, your whole stew will taste burnt.
This is best prepared on a Sunday or a snow day, the latter of which there have many lately, as the meat marinates for a couple hours (or overnight if you plan ahead) and the stew cooks for 3 – 3 1/2 hours. My meat was meltingly tender after 3 hours of gentle simmering.
My mother would probably call this dish is a twofer! That is to say, two wins for one effort – those being it’s delicious and inexpensive. Boneless chuck sold at my local Wholefoods for just $4.99/lb. I much prefer to buy stew meat whole and cube it up myself at home. That is to say I bought a 2.33lb to be precise hunk of boneless chuck and that way I have control over the size of the cubes – you want them generally all the same size so they cook at the same rate. I’ve had disappointing results with the stuff they sell labeled ‘stew meat’ pre-cubed. For one thing, you don’t know for certain which part of the animal all those cubes really came from and more than likely they are not all of uniform size.
In closing I do hope you’re now feeling inspired to give this dish a try. I’m quite certain you’ll be glad you did.
provençal beef stew
- 2-3 lbs boneless beef chuck roast
- 2 yellow onions, 1 quartered and 1 chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/3 inch thick rounds
- 8-10 springs fresh thyme, tied together w kitchen string into a bundle
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 spring fresh rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic, 2 smashed and 2 minced
- 1 strip orange (I used clementine) zest
- 3-4 cups dry red wine*
- 2 tbs flour
- 1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 Tbs red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbs cornstarch whisked and dissolved in 1/3 cup water (optional for thickening)
- Grated gruyére or pecorino cheese (optinal for serving)
- chopping parsley (optional for garnish)
* Doesn’t have to be expensive but should be good enough to drink on its own. Don’t use grocery store so-called ‘cooking wine.’
1. Cut the beef into 2 – 2 1/2 inch cubes and trim off and discard any large pieces of fat. In bowl, mix together quartered onions, carrots, thyme, rosemary, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, smashed garlic and orange zest strip. Add wine and beef and mix. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
2. In large dutch oven, add 3 Tbs olive oil and saute chopped onions for about 5 min. Add minced garlic and saute 1 minute. Transfer to medium bowl with slotted spoon.
3. Pull each piece of meat out of the marinade and carefully pat dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper. The wine will have given the meat a purplish hue. That’s OK. In batches, brown the meat on all sides, turning as needed roughly every 3-4 minutes. Transfer browned meat to bowl with onions and garlic.Continue until all the meat is browned. Do not scorch bottom of pan.
4. Add flour to the pan drippings and cook, stirring often, about 6 minutes or until flour is browned.
5. Pour in reserved marinade and raise heat to high. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge the browned bits. Return onion, garlic, meat and any juices and bring to a boil for a moment – you must bring to a boil here because we’re using the same marinade the raw meat sat in but you don’t want to boil the meat so once the pot comes up to the boil then immediately turn the heat back down to low.
6. Season with 1tsp more salt/pepper, add 1 cup of water, and reduce heat to very low. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, checking occasionally to ensure you’re maintaining a gentle simmer adjusting heat if necessary. Add dried porcini and simmer uncovered for 1 more hour. Meat should be tender enough to cut with a fork at this point. If not, simmer another 1/2 hour. Stir in red wine vinegar. If you want your stew a little thicker, stir in dissolved corn starch. Taste for salt.
7. Transfer to serving bowls and sprinkle with cheese and parsley.
Serve over egg noodles or rice or with crusty bread.
Serves 4 main course portions.
Recipe adapted from Williams Sonoma Essentials of French Cooking