Every time I go to Paris, there are two things I crave: oeuf and boeuf. More than any other country, it seems, the French have perfected cooking egg and beef. From the classic croque madame to the simple but elegant steak au poivre, they have raised the bar for these humble ingredients.
My recent trip there did not fail me.
After traveling nearly 20 hours and heaving my luggage up the RER stairs and Paris metro stairs a total of eight times, I rolled my suitcase, out of breath, into the Crown Plaza hotel lounge where I immediately plopped into a cozy, wine-colored chair like a puppet with no string master. The waiter appeared wearing a starched white shirt and black bowtie. I was too tired to offer up scrappy French. “Croque madame and a glass of viognier please.” He nodded and disappeared between the velvet chairs.
To my great luck, my open-faced ham and egg sandwich arrived drenched in béchamel sauce and nestled in a pile of sizzling hot fries. Ah, the ouef. The glorious egg. When I punctured it with the tines of my fork, the bright yellow yolk spilled its silky liquid onto the bread.
Good French food is like a drug; it alters one’s reality, and if only for a moment, makes one believe they are living the postcard version of France where poets and artists make a decent living, workdays are fewer, and kissing is a national pastime.
It’s this version of Paris that keeps Paris busy being Paris. I. M. Pei may add high-tech pyramids to the Louvre but the bistro chairs will always look the same and a good steak with frites never goes out of fashion.
And thank God for that because my favorite French dishes are usually the most humble.
Co-owner Dominique Vessiere at Le P'tit Troquet
At Le P’tit Troquet, a charming, family-run 1920s-style bistro in the 7th arrondissement, I sampled a delicious boeuf bourguignon with tender chunks of beef that had been braised for hours. The chef served the tasty stew with a side of homemade noodles and a garnish of fresh bay leaf and thyme. I adored the simplicity of the dish, which relied more on drawing out deep flavors through traditional cooking methods than on fancy techniques. For at least that night, I was happy to live in the postcard version of Paris, the one that never ceases to capture my imagination through simple, good food.
Here is my ode to France's beloved boeuf, a beef bourguignon, similar to the one I tasted at Le P'tit Troquet.
According to The New Best Recipe, all beef burgundies start with either salt pork or bacon. The book instructs cooks to boil the salt pork first to remove excess salt and argues a similar technique for bacon, saying that blanching bacon calms the smoke and sugar. Personally, I didn't want to calm my bacon flavors, especially since I was only going to use the rendered fat, not the bacon bits. Using just the rendered fat turned out a sauce that was delicate and balanced.
This recipe is a combination of three recipes, one from The New Best Recipe, and the other two from Saveur Cooks Authentic French and Paris Bistro Cooking. It's the tastiest version I've tried yet.
Serves 4 with extra
3 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1-1/2 inch squares
4 ounces bacon
1 bunch parsley
1 teaspoon peppercorns
3-4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
4 medium carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, skins removed
1 bottle burgundy
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup flour
10 ounces button mushrooms
10 ounces pearl onions
salt and pepper
Parsley, finely diced, or fresh sprigs of fresh bay leaf and thyme for garnish
16 ounces fresh pasta (see recipe, below)
Heat a Dutch oven over medium flame. Add the bacon and fry until crispy, turning once. Remove the bacon and pour out all but a tablespoon of the fat.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the bacon fat. On medium-high heat, brown the beef in batches, about 5 minutes per side. While the meat is browning, roughly chop the carrots and onions. Peel the garlic cloves. Assemble the bouquet garni by placing the peppercorns, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf in a bouqet garni bag and tying it off.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
When the beef is finished browning, remove it from the Dutch oven and set it aside on a plate.
In the bacon fat and juices from the beef, cook the carrot, onion, and garlic over medium heat for five minutes. Add the flour and stir for 30 seconds longer. Setting aside ¼ cup of the red wine, pour the bottle of wine into Dutch oven with the vegetables. Add the tomato paste, beef stock, the browned beef, the bouquet garni, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
Cover and place in the oven. Cook for two hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the pearl onions by cutting a small “X” on the root end of the onion. Blanch the onions in boiling water for 3 minutes and remove. When they are cool, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the skin toward the X mark until the inner onion pops through the outer layer leaving a shell behind. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a saute pan and saute the pearl onions for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, halve the button mushrooms. If they are larger than two inches wide, quarter them. Add the mushrooms, along with another tablespoon of butter, to the pan and saute for about 6 – 8 more minutes.
After 2 hours, remove the Dutch oven from the oven. Using tongs, extract the beef chunks and set aside on a plate. Set a large bowl in the sink. Using a chinoise, strain the wine liquid through the chinoise and into the large bowl, pressing the solids against the chinoise with a spatula.
Discard the solids and pour the liquid back into the Dutch oven. Add pearl onions and mushroom mixture as well as the beef back into the pot. Cook together for 10 minutes.
Setting a deep pot over a high flame, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil for the pasta. Add 2 tablespoons salt and cook the egg noodles until they float to the top. Strain the noodles.
Add the remaining red wine to the beef bourguignon and cook for another three minutes. The New Best Recipe says "this late embellishment of raw wine vastly improved the sauce, brightening its flavor." I agree. Serve the stew over egg noodles and garnish with chopped parsley or fresh bay leaves and thyme.
2-1/2 cups flour plus more for dusting
Pour the flour onto an extra large cutting board. Form the flour into a circle with a well or ‘bowl’ in the middle. Crack the eggs into the middle of the flour. Slowly begin whisking eggs together, drawing flour from the sides of the ‘bowl’ into the egg mixture. Take your time and avoid lumps. The mixture should be smooth and silky. Once there is too much flour for your fork to handle, begin kneading the dough by hand, adding in extra flour until the dough is no longer sticky.
Cut the ball in quarters. Roll out each quarter so it will fit through a pasta machine. Set the pasta machine to Setting 2. Ensure the quarter of dough is well floured. Feed the dough through the machine twice. Repeat the procedure at Setting 4 and Setting 5.
Next, roll the pasta through the fettucine setting.
Repeat with the other three pieces of dough until all the pasta is cut and ready to cook. Follow the steps listed above and serve. Want to learn about wine pairing with beef bourguignon? Click here.