A trip to Bordeaux, France is a journey through vineyards tucked into lush hillsides. Single story stone chateaus haven’t changed since they were built. Sheep roam free, chickens produce eggs with golden yolks and the wine…well, there is the wine…descriptions of which, I'll save for another time!
French food is artistry on a plate. Each item is perfectly presented. Vegetables are diced precisely the same size – little squares to be exact. Proteins are masterfully portioned. The desserts are too beautiful to eat. And, just when you decide it would be a sin to dive into the plate placed in front of you, you taste… and ah! … you know why you made the trip.
I was the most surprised at a meal we had at the local bistro, Pot-au-feu. We translated the dish to mean "beef stew", which we recognized as a classic family meal. I expected a thick, rich stew with a fragrant red wine sauce, much like Julia Child's famous beef bourguignon. But, instead, we ended up devouring a veggie-studded broth, with a slice of tender beef on the top.
You can see from the photo above…It looked to be a simple dish, yet nuanced flavors were there in every bite. This is achieved by creating a broth from marrow and oxtail bones, infused with leeks and carrots. It was delicious, but I found myself wanting just a bite or two of the other famous French beef dish – one I vowed to make upon my return home, The Art of French Cooking propped up on my counter...a few shortcuts and modifications, though – sorry, Julia!
Home again, home again. After the jet lag wore off, I was back in my kitchen, cooking up a couple of my French favorites; among the first: a traditional wine-laced beef stew. Mine is a tad easier to make, as I favor the lightening quick stovetop and skillet approach over Julia’s traditional overnight method.
If you’re in the mood for a dish from Bordeaux, try my recipe for a skillet version of Beef Bourguignon, taken from my Sunday Best Dishes book –due out in print this summer!
Skillet Beef Bourguignon
Normally, the rich taste of beef cooked in wine takes hours, but in this recipe, it’s on your Sunday supper table in minutes. A tender cut of meat, and steaming the veggies before putting them in the sauce is key. Another secret: a little slurry of cornstarch and water gives the sauce a luscious sheen. Serve this dish over Polenta with Asiago Cheese or Creamy Smashed Parmesan Potatoes.
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces bacon, cut into pieces (about 4 slices)
3 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces, blanched
1 (10-ounce bag) frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse pepper
1 cup cognac
1 cup red wine
2 cups homemade beef broth, or low sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the bacon and cook until golden and beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the beef and cook until just browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. The cubes should be very rare in the center. Transfer the meat and bacon to a bowl.
Turn off the heat. Pour in the cognac. Add the vegetables. Turn on the heat and simmer until most of the liquid disappears. Turn off the heat and pour in the wine. Turn the heat back on and simmer until most of the liquid disappears. Pour in 1 cup beef broth. Reduce until most of the liquid disappears. Pour in the last cup of broth, and reduce until there is about 1 cup liquid remaining in the skillet with the vegetables. This process will take about 10 minutes.
Add the meat back into the sauce. Stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook until the sauce is smooth and shiny, about 2 minutes. The meat should remain rare to medium-rare. Sprinkle fresh parsley over top.