Sunday 1 January 2017

Boeuf Bourguignon in Cape French Style

It has been a while since my last posting. Nursing a torn shoulder muscle saps away one's energy like nothing else. This injury put a serious crimp on my sailing activities. However, it is a new year and time for another cooking adventure.

We have high summer here in Cape Town around this time of the year, so making a stewed dish may sound somewhat eclectic. However, this one is very easy to make, requires but a few ingredients, and will feed the hungry hordes on their return from the beach or their other outdoor activities. And I probably have very little convincing to do to my northern hemisphere readers!

Another hearty dish originating in France, now used all over the world. I have made similar dishes with great success without wine, using soy sauce and tomatoes instead.

This dish may be made a day before serving. It ages and develops flavour if left in the refrigerator overnight and takes well to freezing.

So this is another one of my few experiments in cooking with wine. Somehow I have not yet explored that avenue of the culinary arts properly.

Most of the recipes on the internet use beef chuck as the main ingredient, so I opted for the same cut. It is one of the cheaper cuts from the carcass and quite flavourful. Basically any juicy cut from the forequarters will do. I also keep some of the bones. They tend to enrich the sauce part of the dish. Just be careful of too much fat. I usually trim most off. Between the bacon fat and the marrow you probably have sufficient fat for a delicious combination.

As for the bacon, most recipes propose pancetta. Over here in Cape Town, pancetta tends to be more expensive than the standard smoked bacon bits that can be obtained from your friendly chain store grocer.

You don't really need fancy cuts of bacon or beef, as you will be stewing it in wine anyway. I opted for a less pricey version of both.

Talking about the wine, there is much fuss. Some recipes specify quite fancy wine, others specify cooking wine. Others specify cognac as well. The reason for using the wine lies in the acidity and some flavour. The acidity will help to de-glaze the pan. The flavour of the wine itself is of less importance, as the dish contains a lot of other strong flavours that will overwhelm the wine. There is a caveat, however: The stuff sold as cooking wine may not be drinkable as a result of added chemicals. You don't want to use such concoctions. Use wine that you will drink yourself. While some French recipes specify burgundy, any easy quaffing dry red will do.

For this dish I specifically did not use tomatoes. It is up to the cook to decide. Both Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey has recipes on the net that use tomatoes. After a long chat about this subject recently to a French student of mine, I decided to go without tomatoes.

As for stock, I follow the school of thought that the preparation procedure creates sufficient stock to thicken the sauce, so no additional stock is required. So far this line of thinking has stood me in good stead.

The vegetables I cut into chunky, coarse bits. The meat is chunky, so the chunky veggies add to the texture. I did not have fresh thyme, so had to use the dried herb.

I always add some chilli to my stewed dishes, it brings out the other flavours. There is a caveat again: you need to have only a tiny amount in the dish. Once you start tasting the chilli, you have too much. If you are too scared, used a tiny bit of cayenne pepper instead, it is much more user-friendly.

So here goes.

Boeuf Bourguignon in Cape French style


1 kilo beef chuck cubed into 20mm cubes
250g bacon bits
250 g small brown mushrooms, quartered or halved
2-3 cups red wine
4 cloves garlic
2-3 brown onions, medium sized, chopped coarsely
3-4 pickling onions
sprig parsley
4 medium carrots, julienned coarsely
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ cup plain cake flour
1 tablespoon dried thyme
4 bay leaves
½ hot Thai chilli, chopped.
salt  & pepper


Fry the bacon bits in a medium hot pan until the fat has run out. Remove the bacon from the pan and keep aside. While the bacon is frying, pat the meat cubes dry with paper towels and roll them in the flour. This is the only tricky part. The meat has to be quite dry before dusting with flour. If not, the meat will not brown properly and your dish will not have the rich flavours that you want.

Now fry the meat cubes in the bacon fat until they are nice and brown. You have to do this in batches, otherwise the meat juices will make enough water in the pan to boil the meat, not fry it. Add a dollop of olive oil if the fat seems too little. The bottom of the pan will now get a layer of caramelised meat and flour. Don't worry, this is your stock forming. Just watch that this layer doesn't burn. Keep the temperature low enough.

Once the meat is done, fry the onions in the remaining fat/olive oil. Once the onions go brown, fry the chopped garlic and the chilli, then remove from the pan.  Now add the mushrooms and fry them for 30 seconds to a minute. Remove them from the pan as well and keep aside.

Once this is done you may turn the heat to low and add the wine. This will de-glaze the pan and you should have a thick-ish sauce.

Add back the beef cubes and bring to the boil. Now add the chopped carrots, celery and the bacon. Here you may add either boiling water or more wine, as you prefer. The dish needs to simmer in juice, so check it frequently. This simmering must really be just a simmer: very slow indeed. Budget at least two hours and keep the lid tightly on the pan.

Once the meat starts going tender, add the mushrooms and some chopped parsley. Close the lid and wait another twenty minutes or so.

In the meantime you may prepare the accompanying side dish. This may be in the form of pasta, toasted bread, potato mash or any other starchy side dish that you prefer. This is a very juicy dish, so any starch that will absorb sauce will work. I opted for baby potatoes boiled in the skin.

It is always good practice to allow the dish to repose for at least half an hour before dishing up. This will allow the flavours to develop. However, if you have hungry hordes to feed, you may just be outnumbered and swept aside!

Now dish up. Of course, not to forget that you will need at least another bottle of red wine to go with the dish...

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2017-01-01