What are chilly winter days without comfort foods to soothe our weary souls and hungry stomachs? One of the best examples of comfort food is the stew. In it's basic form, a stew is relatively inexpensive meat stewed with vegetables in flavorful liquid. It takes simple preparation to put together, then it's just a matter of waiting for it cook. But the most important part about a stew is that it be hearty enough to keep hunger at bay for a long time. Beef stew is the remedy! And who knows beef stew better than the French?
Boeuf Bourguignon, the dish made famous by Julia Child, is the best example of French country cuisine. An entire bottle of Burgundy separates this champion from the contenders. But each region has its own famous stew. Provençe has beef daube, a Mediterranean-style stew with bright flavors influenced by surrounding Italy and north Africa. This stew might not be as well known as beef Burgundy but it's amazing in it's own right.
True to French style, this recipe includes an entire bottle of wine. But to make this stew authentically Provençal, you'll need garlic, tomatoes, olives, herbs and spices. Rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, juniper berries, and orange zest are the secret ingredients that make this stew so unique, perfuming the dish with wonderful aroma and flavor. Though this stew takes up to two hours to cook, it's well worth the time and patience. It's also one of those dishes that gets better the day after. So make it a day ahead and enjoy it the next. Happy cooking!
for the bouquet garni:
6 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
3 bay leaves
6 juniper berries, cracked
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 wide strips orange zest
for the stew:
2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch chunks
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 bacon strips, cut into pieces
2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup Cognac
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 750-ml bottle young red wine, such as Burgundy
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound button mushrooms, halved if large
1 cup black and green olives
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, for garnish
egg noodles, for serving
Prepare the bouquet garni: On a large triple-layer of cheesecloth, lay the herbs, spices, and orange zest. Fold up into a bundle and tie securely with kitchen twine.
Prepare the stew by heating a 5-quart heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. Add about 3 tablespoons olive oil. Pat beef chunks dry and season with salt and pepper. Sear in batches until browned all over. Refresh pan with oil as needed. Remove beef and set aside.
Add bacon and fry until rendered and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove to a plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan.
Add onions and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir to coat vegetables. Pour in Cognac to deglaze pan and scrape up browned bits. Add tomatoes and cook down until thick and jammy, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Return beef and bacon to pan. Pour over with wine and add bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook until beef is tender, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Check during cooking to make sure beef is submerged under cooking liquid.
In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, melt butter and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add mushrooms and sauté until liquid releases and evaporates, about 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt.
Over a large pot, strain solids from stewing liquid. Reduce cooking liquid by third. Check seasoning. Return beef and vegetables to pan. Add mushrooms and olives and rewarm until hot. Serve with buttered egg noodles and garnish with chopped parsley. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.