“When beef stew is in the oven, all’s right with the world,” writes Julia Child in “The French Chef Cookbook.” Julia goes on to say that beef Bourguignon “is the best beef stew known to man.” As fabulous as her recipe is, it is also labor-intensive, and the directions are written in Julia’s thorough style. “Cover the casserole and set it in the lower third of the oven,” she advises, adding that you may also cook the stew on top of the stove, in an electric skillet, or a kettle.
I continued to prepare Julia’s recipe until I found another recipe in Mireille Johnston’s lovely and warming cook book, “The Cuisine of the Sun.” While Mirielle’s recipe has many of the same ingredients as Julia’s recipe, it also has chopped tomatoes, carrots, black olives, and a surprise ingredient – orange rind. Like Julia’s recipe it is very labor-intensive. “Although this takes two days to prepare, it is well worth the effort,” Mireille writes.
The stew is refrigerated for 24 hours to blend the flavors and congeal the fat, “which will look like a sheet of wax,” explains Mireille. After the fat has been removed you complete the recipe. Beef a la Nicoise should be served with fresh egg noodles, gnocchi, or plain boiled potatoes, “nothing too emphatic,” Mireille says, and I think she is right.
Yesterday the wind chill was so bad it would have made a polar bear shiver. I yearned for beef stew in red wine, but did not want to spend hours in it, so I took shortcuts. Though I had less meat than the recipe called for, I didn’t worry about it because I had extra vegetables. Instead of fresh mushrooms I used dry ones from the pantry. I used garlic from a jar, frozen pearl onions, and tiny prepared carrots, which saved lots of peeling and chopping. My new, healthier beef stew tasted as good as the old Boeuf Bourguingnon and here is the recipe.
1 cup sliced, dried mushrooms
6 slices diced bacon OR one 2.8-ounce package real bacon recipe pieces
1 1/2 pounds lean beef stew
1 teaspoon prepared garlic
1 beefsteak tomato, diced
1 cup petite carrots
1/2 pound (half package) frozen pearl onions
2 packets salt-free beef bouillon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons diced orange rind (Make sure there is no white pith.)
2 tablespoons Splenda
1/4 teaspoon low-sodium salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups good quality burgundy
2 cups water
Cut fresh bacon into small pieces and fry until crisp. (Or, pour precooked real bacon pieces into slow cooker.) Drain bacon on paper towels and put in cooker. Wipe remaining grease from skillet with paper towels. Brown stew meat in skillet and transfer to cooker. Pour wine into skillet, scraping up bits from bottom of the pan, and simmer 2 minutes. Pour wine into slow cooker and add remaining ingredients. If liquid does not cover the meat add a little more water.
Simmer stew on high for one hour. Turn cooker to low setting and simmer two more hours. When meat is fork-tender thicken stew with three tablespoons of gravy flour blended with an equal amount of water. Add more thickening if needed. Serve as chunky soup with French bread, or over rice, or on wide noodles garnished with fresh parsley. Makes 6-8 servings.