Apologies to the vegetarians in the room.
On winter Saturdays I quite often make a casserole in the slow cooker, keeping some of it aside in the fridge for Sunday lunch, and portioning the rest for the freezer. Today, though nowhere near as inhospitable as yesterday, was still pretty wintry, and I decided to dig out an old recipe and see if I could adapt it for slow cooking. The beef Bourgignon recipe I use goes back almost fifty years, at which point in time the dish was fashionable and chic, and I used to receive much admiration whenever I served it. Over time it fell out of fashion, and as originally written it’s a bit of a faff, so gradually I stopped making it, but as the slow cooker did its work this afternoon and the aroma filled the house, I was glad I’d decided to resurrect it.
This is the original recipe, which claims to serve six, though I’d say it will easily go round eight people:
6 oz. streaky bacon, in one piece
2½ pints / 1 litre / 6 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 lb lean, stewing steak, cut into 2-inch cubes and dried on kitchen paper towels
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons flour
1¼ pints / 700 ml / 3 cups red wine, (Macon or Burgundy)
16 fl. oz / 500 ml / 2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1½ tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
18 small onions
5 fl. oz / 150 ml / 5/8 cup home-made beef stock or red wine
bouquet garni, consisting of 2 parsley sprigs, 1 thyme spray and 1small bay leaf tied together
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons oil
1 lb mushrooms, quartered
With a sharp knife, cut off the bacon rind and reserve it. Cut the bacon into strips ¼ inch thick and 1½ inches long. Place the bacon strips in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with the water. Bring the water to a boil over moderate heat, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Drain off the water and dry the bacon strips on kitchen paper towels. Preheat the oven to very hot 450°F (Gas Mark 8, 230°C).
Heat the olive oil in a large, flameproof casserole over moderate heat. Add the bacon strips to the casserole and cook them for 3 minutes, turning several times so that they brown on both sides. Remove the bacon strips from the casserole with a slotted spoon, put them on a plate and set aside.
Over moderate heat, reheat the fat in the casserole until it is very hot. Add the beef cubes a few at a time and, stirring occasionally, brown them quickly on all sides. As the cubes brown, transfer them with a slotted spoon to the plate with the bacon. Add the sliced carrot and onion to the same fat and saute them quickly over moderate heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour away the fat and return the beef and bacon to the casserole. Stir in the salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the meat cubes and toss them lightly with a wooden spoon to cover them with the flour. Place the casserole, uncovered, in the centre of the oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat again and return the casserole to the oven for another 4 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to warm 325°F (Gas Mark 3, 170°C).
Stir the wine, beef stock, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and bacon rind into the casserole, and bring to simmering point over moderate heat. Cover the casserole and put it in the lower part of the oven. Cook for 3.5 to 4 hours, or until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork. While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
To cook the onions, heat it tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium-sized, heavy frying-pan over moderate heat. Add the onions to the pan and fry them over moderate heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that they brown on all sides.
Pour in the beef stock or red wine and add the bouquet garni, salt and pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Cover the pan, reduce the heat and simmer the onions for 40 minutes, or until they are tender but still retain their shape. Remove the bouquet garni and put the onions to one side.
Wipe out the frying-pan. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and the oil in the pan over moderate heat. As soon as the foam begins to subside, add the mushrooms to the frying-pan. Toss and shake the pan for 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are lightly browned. Set aside.
When the meat is tender, place a strainer over a large saucepan and pour the contents of the casserole into it. Rinse out the casserole and put the beef and bacon back into it. Discard the bay leaf. Add the onions and mushrooms and keep hot.
Skim any fat from the strained sauce and simmer it over moderate heat for 2 minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it rapidly to reduce and thicken it. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Sprinkle with chopped parsley just before serving.
My adaptation today began with using cubed pancetta instead of bacon, which I dry-fried until it released its fat; I then fried off the meat and sliced vegetables in this, before adding the rest of the main ingredients – though less stock and wine than I would have used for cooking in the oven. I cooked this mixture on the slow cooker’s low setting for six hours, adding the braised shallots and fried mushrooms for the final hour. No straining at the end, and no sauce reductions needed – I just threw in the fresh chopped parsley and allowed the casserole to cool before refrigerating some and freezing the rest.
I shot this image of my legacy dish using a legacy lens – my old nifty fifty, which isn’t stabilised, and makes a slightly alarming noise as it focuses – because that happened to be the best focal length for the job in hand. When I mentioned it to R though, his response was, “What is this – retro Saturday?”