About a three weeks ago, Amy and I were sitting on the couch trying to figure out what we were going to make for dinner on Christmas Day and I was a little stumped. I didn't want to go through a huge ordeal with cooking Christmas dinner like last year with the porchetta we made. To keep things on the simpler side, boeuf bourguignon ended up being the dish of choice. I don’t know why I like this dish so much. But it’s probably because I like any dish where meat is seared in bacon fat.
Once we decided to make boeuf bourguignon, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A couple days went by and finally I gave in. I was going to do a practice run.
I bought all the ingredients at the store: mushrooms, pearl onions, beef chuck, beef stock, and of course, red wine -- Pinot Noir to be specific (but any red wine really works). I had some time on my hands the Saturday before Christmas, and I spent an hour or so that afternoon making it, following Julia Child's recipe to the T. I even bought fresh pearl onions and skinned them which was a COMPLETE PAIN IN THE ASS! I threw the prepped stew in the oven at 325 like the recipe says, and sat back and waited (and by sat back I mean I took care of three kids).
About an hour in, I had to go pick up my car from the shop (I had dropped it off that morning before I started) so we ran out for about an hour to get it. When I got back, I checked the stew, and it was done already, despite the recipe saying it should take two and a half to three hours (it was only about two hours in). We served it with a nice pappardelle pasta as soon as it was done which I think is a good way to serve this stew, but mashed potatoes, polenta, or just about any starchy side will do.
My initial impression was that it was dry. But Amy insisted it was just fine. She even had some for lunch the next day. “How was it reheated?” I asked the next day. “It was even better!” she said.
We had a ton of leftovers, and I figured I’d give them to some friends I was meeting for lunch on Tuesday. Suffice it to say, it ended up being a whole ordeal because I left the leftovers in my freezer at work when I met them for lunch, and I then I found myself driving halfway across Montgomery County to drop the leftovers off. It was too long of a story to tell here, but when I got home, Amy said to me, “Honey, I didn’t have the heart to tell you. The beef WAS dry!”
“What??!! You mean I just drove across Montgomery County to give our friends dry stew?”
OK. So any normal person would’ve just made something else for Christmas, but I need to get things right Goddammit! Revisiting my approach in my head step by step, I made the following mistakes.
Mistake # 1 - Using precut beef chuck
Instead, buy a whole beef shoulder and cut the meat into two-inch cubes.
The precut beef chuck I used was cut in one-inch pieces (and sometimes smaller). Shoulder is the preferable cut for stew like this and I’ve even heard of people using beef short ribs. Some people like round, but whenever I use round it comes out exceptionally dry regardless of the temperature I cook it at. And with that…
Mistake # 2 - 325 degrees is too hot
It cooks the fat out of the meat way too quickly. In the recipes defense, it does say to regulate the heat so liquid simmers very slowly, and I basically didn’t do that because I just had too much going on. But 325 degrees in just about any oven, is too hot and is going to result in your having stew with dry meat. 300 or even lower is a better starting temperature. It’s better to start it out at a lower temperature (like 250) and have to turn it up than to cook it for 30 minutes at too high a temperature and then turn it down.
Mistake # 3 - Using fucking FRESH pearl onions
There’s a reason humans invented the freezer and frozen foods. So people like you and me don’t have to skin pearl onions. For realz people. Buy frozen ones. They’re available in the freezer section (duh) and you won’t tell the difference.
Mistake # 4 - Serving it immediately
Make any meat stew the day before you serve it (if you can). Yes, the recipe says you can serve it immediately, but in the end, making any stew or chili the day before and letting it sit in the fridge overnight to absorb all that sexy, juicy goodness is going to improve it tremendously. Trust me.
The boeuf bourguignon we had on Christmas Day for dinner turned out amazing and was NOT dry. At All. My mother-in-law was down, and she couldn’t get enough of it. And in the end, I’m keeping what little damn leftovers we have for myself. (Sorry, friends.)
(And yes, if you're wondering, we did eat Christmas dinner off our coffee table.)
Oh and if you need Julia Child's recipe, it can be found here.