The Damien Pignolet method for better beef Bourguignon

So much more than a fancy stew, boeuf à la Bourguignonne is a dish that’s quintessentially French.
Boeuf à la BourguignonneJames Moffatt
1H 20M
1H 50M

Great red Burgundies have refined fruitiness and delicate but complex bouquets, so it’s no wonder so many famous dishes in the French repertoire come from this province: jambon persillé, coq au vin, gougères, and not least of all beef Bourguignon or boeuf à la Bourguignonne.

Both red and white wines play a major role in Burgundian cuisine. It may be as simple as adding red wine to the pan after cooking a minute steak, reducing it with shallots and beef jus, then mounting it with butter and adding parsley for a quick sauce. Coq au vin, by contrast, is a more complex dish. Fortunately, boeuf à la Bourguignonne (or “Bourguignonne” as was the bistro title of old) is relatively simple but, like all things simple, the art is in the detail.

The essentials of a boeuf à la Bourguignonne.

(Photo: James Moffatt)

You need to start this gorgeous dish well ahead. It’s worth making your own rich stock, which is reduced to a veal glace, or glaze.

Ask your butcher to saw a veal shank into sections and order meaty beef bones. Roast these, then make a stock with them along with onions, carrots, celery and a bouquet garni. Cook the stock for at least eight hours (up to 14 if practicable), then strain and skim off fat, and reduce it to 20 per cent of the original quantity. Any leftover stock may be frozen for another use.

Traditional recipes call for topside or even rump steak, both of which I consider give a rather dry result (early recipes require larding the meat, when a joint is used: making incisions and inserting lardons). Chuck steak is an excellent cut to use, as is gravy beef, which produces a rich sauce (hence the name). I love oyster blade since it’s a single muscle, which translates to even cooking. Another helper is the built-in treasure of a gelatinous fibre of collagen running through its centre, which adds to the body of the sauce provided the cooking is slow enough to break it down. (Most cooks think this cut is only for braising but it makes a great steak if cooked medium rare, and a very succulent roast.)

Step 5

(Photo: James Moffatt)

Burgundians often use diced beef for this dish since it’s essentially a stew. I used to dice this cut until it occurred to me to braise it in slices, allowing even cooking and attractive presentation. Cook the slices in one layer for even heat distribution and a succulent result.

The principal ingredients are simple: good aged beef, a few root vegetables, pork belly and a good Burgundy. While Australian pinot noir will make a fine Bourguignonne, try to use a French wine. I used a 2012 Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne, which compares favourably in price to a homeland pinot noir.

Note that the sauce may seem thin but, provided the flavour is rich, there’s no need to reduce it. And take care to find tiny onions and mushrooms since they add so much to the presentation.

A great advantage of this recipe is that it may be cooked in advance, leaving the final garnish for the day you serve it. As to an accompaniment, I prefer little waxy potatoes such as kipflers or chats, rather than a potato purée – this will negate all the care taken to make a pure-tasting sauce. And, as with many French dishes, don’t forget the parsley.

Boeuf à la Bourguignonne is the sort of dish we dream about as real French food. Savour it with a delicious Burgundy. Enjoy.

The recipe

30 minute preparation | 1 hr 20 mins cooking plus marinating, chilling

Serves 6

Begin this recipe two days ahead to marinate the meat.


Red Burgundy marinade



1.Remove stalks from mushrooms and place in a sealable non-reactive container with marinade ingredients and beef (reserve mushrooms), cover and refrigerate overnight to marinate.
2.Remove beef from marinade and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels, then set aside to come to room temperature (chilled meat will not brown easily without shedding its juices).
3.Meanwhile, strain the marinade through a sieve lined with muslin or filter paper and set aside.
4.Heat 60ml oil in a frying pan over medium heat and brown meat well all over, watching the heat so caramelisation occurs slowly (5-6 minutes). Remove the meat and wipe out pan with paper towels, then return meat to pan. Away from the heat source, add Cognac, return to very low heat, shake pan and allow to boil for 20-30 seconds (take care – the spirit may catch alight over a gas flame, which is desirable but can set off smoke alarms). Turn the beef over and set aside.
5.Preheat oven to 160C. Wipe out pan again, add 60ml oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly coloured (7-8 minutes). Drain off the fat and pat the vegetables dry with paper towels. Place a piece of muslin in the bottom of a heatproof casserole that will neatly hold the meat in a single layer, add vegetables and bouquet garni, wrap into a bundle and secure with kitchen string.
6.Strain any juices left from browning the beef and add to pan along with veal glace, bring slowly to the boil over low heat and skim until clear – add water if necessary to keep the braising liquor only just covering the contents. Taste to check the seasoning; it will taste acidic and bland but don’t oversalt. Press a sheet of baking paper cut to fit the casserole directly on the surface and transfer to the oven. After 20 minutes reduce oven to 130C and continue cooking until meat holds just a tiny bit of resistance when pierced with a skewer (55-60 minutes). Place meat in a bowl and press a sheet of baking paper on the surface to prevent beef drying out. Transfer the bag of vegetables to a sieve placed over the braising pan and press the bag to release the juices, then place over low heat on the stovetop and simmer gently while skimming off as much fat as possible until broth looks fairly clear (4-5 minutes). Filter the braising liquor through a sieve lined with moistened muslin into a bowl placed over a larger one holding ice cubes and a small handful of salt so that it cools quickly. Stir from time to time and once cool, pour this over the beef. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Once liquid is really cold, spoon off any remaining fat.
7.About an hour before serving, very slowly reheat your Bourguignonne on the stovetop. Heat remaining oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add lardons and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (2-3 minutes). Place lardons on paper towels, discard butter and wipe out pan.
8.Heat half the clarified butter over medium-high heat and sauté champignons until they look glazed (5-6 minutes). Place the champignons on paper towels, discard butter and wipe out pan.
9.Heat remaining clarified butter and sauté pickling onions, keeping the pan on the move so onions roll in the hot butter to gain some colour (10-15 minutes). Drain on paper towels. Add lardons, mushrooms and onions to Bourguignonne and simmer until onions are cooked through (10-15 minutes; the sauce won’t be thickened but will taste delicious). Serve in deep dishes with an equal share of the vegetables and lardons and scatter generously with parsley. Accompany with small boiled kipfler or chat potatoes.

Note Instead of oyster blade, you can use boned, trimmed short rib or chuck steak. The former may be portioned like the oyster blade and will take 2-2½ hours to cook. The chuck should be diced in 2.5cm-3cm pieces and will take a similar time. Veal glace is a highly reduced veal stock. Boil 750ml good low-salt veal stock over medium-high heat until reduced to 150ml.


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