Archive for July, 2017|Monthly archive page

Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices

In Recipes on July 11, 2017 at 4:36 am

Dishes that incorporate all ingredients in the one pot for long, slow cooking have been popular almost since cooking began. Simmering ingredients slowly in a broth or a sauce retains the nutrients and extracts maximum flavour from the dish’s components. If using meat the cook can use the cheaper cuts that respond well to an extended cooking time making these kinds of dishes economical too. In the past, particularly in parts of Europe, flavourings and ingredients such as onions, garlic, spices, herbs and meats were often in short supply or prohibitively expensive to all but a small proportion of the population so, if poorer people had these ingredients, they wanted to extract the maximum flavour and nutrition. In other words, like many other of the world’s great dishes, stews, ragus and braises originated in the homes of peasant cooks.

I have been reading The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black. It is interesting to see that, contrary to modern perceptions, medieval cooks were endlessly inventive and that many of the dishes they made are not markedly different from the dishes we cook today. Here is part of a recipe for veal, lamb or mutton stew: ‘Take veel or other[wise] motoun and smyte it into gobettes. Seeth it in good broth; cast thereto erbes-yhewe gode won, and a quantite of oynouns mynced, powdour fort and safroun …. seeth until they be tendre’ OR ‘Cut the meat into 5-cm/2-inch cubes. Put the stock into a stewpan and bring to the boil … then add the prepared onions, herbs, spices and wine. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook gently until the meat cubes are cooked through and tender.’ The method described here, apart from maybe browning the meat and onions prior to stewing, is pretty similar to modern techniques and I do love it when I get to ‘smyte my meat into gobettes’.

With the renewed popularity of slow cookers or crockpots stews and braises are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Boeuf bourgignonne, otherwise known as beef burgundy, is a peasant dish from the Burgundy region in France. Coming from this part of the country, an area that is famous for its wine, the dish naturally includes a good amount of red wine. Originally, the meat was marinated in red wine to tenderise it. The cook could then use cheaper cuts of meat and still achieve good results. Stews are often better the next day and boeuf bourgignonne is no exception. Leftovers can be made into a delicious pie with some puff pastry or topped with garlicky mashed potato to make a sort of gourmet cottage pie. I make mine from a recipe that I have carried in my head for many years but the one I have given you here, while very similar to mine, is based on a recipe by Gabriel Gate.

Boeuf Bourgignonne

Boeuf Bourgignonne


800g oyster blade or chuck steak

1 medium brown onion (thinly sliced)

2 French shallots (thinly sliced)

2 garlic cloves (crushed)

1 thyme sprig or 1 rosemary sprig

300ml red wine

3 tbs olive oil


freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons butter

1 tbs plain flour

125g bacon (finely chopped)

16 baby onions OR 3 brown onions cut into thin slices

25 small mushrooms OR 5 large flat or portobello mushrooms sliced into largish pieces

4 tbs chopped parsley

Onions, bacon,mushrooms


The day before you cook the dish, trim the beef of excess fat and sinew and cut it into 4-6 pieces. Place in a bowl with the onion, shallots, garlic and thyme or rosemary. Cover with wine and stir in 1 tbs of olive oil.

The following day lift the meat, onion, garlic and shallots from the wine and place on a cloth to dry. Reserve the wine and the herbs as well. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F)

Heat 1 tbs of the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and brown the meat on all sides. Add the butter to the pan, followed by the reserved onion, shallots and garlic, stir well. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat the meat. Add the reserved wine and the reserved herbs and stir well. Cover with a lid and cook for about two hours in the oven or on the stove top on a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan and saute the bacon over a medium heat for a few minutes. Remove the bacon and set aside. Add the baby onions and brown well all over. Remove the onions, set aside and cook the mushrooms in the same pan for 2 minutes.

Towards the end of the 2 hours, add the bacon, onions and mushrooms to the casserole and return to the oven or stove top for a further 20 – 30 minutes.

*I tend to let my boeuf bourgignonne simmer for a bit longer, about 2 and a half to 3 hours for the first stage and then a further half hour to 40 minutes after you have added the bacon, onions and mushrooms.

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Serves 4

Note: If making this recipe in a slow cooker you may need to adjust the times accordingly. You could let the first stage go in the slow cooker while you are out and then add the bacon, onions and mushrooms when you get home.

If you do not have time to marinate the meat overnight in the wine, a couple of hours in the marinade will still yield good results.