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Boeuf Bourguignon questions: sauce and prep

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Whenever I make BB, I use Julia Child's recipe, or a variation thereof (like the J&J version). However, some recipes out there recommend marinating the meat first, overnight, in the liquid. What purpose does this serve? Second, I always have issues with the sauce. Once I remove the meat and boil the sauce down, it never really gets as thickish. Does it need to rest for a few minutes after adding the flour, does it thicken if it cools? Also, when is the best time to taste it to see if salt is needed?

Thank you.

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  1. Generally, marinating imparts flavor and/or to tenderizes the meat. Some cooks do it while others don't bother. Marinating does not affect the thickening of the sauce. After you reduce the sauce, you can further thickening to your liking by whisking a little beurre manie (flour and softened butter mixed together) or a cornstarch slurvy (cornstarch mixed with a little cold liquid). I always salt the meat before browning it, a little after I add the wine/stock. Then I do a final salt adjustment after the sauce is reduced.

    1. Most traditional recipes call for marinating, a few don't, but usually for up to four hours and not overnight. If I decide to make it far enough in advance to allow time to marinade, I do, but if not, it's still good. Before browning the meat, whether marinated or not, I do dry it somewhat and then dredge it well in flour. This is the thickener for the sauce while it is braising in the oven. I do use the marinade to deglaze the browning pan, then pour all of that liquid over the meat in the braising casserole, along with a rich beef stock or demiglace to cover. And I use a bit of cognac along with the red wine. Unlike most cooks and chefs, I do NOT salt the meat before browning or during cooking, but do use the bouquet garni and other seasonings/flavorings that are traditional, then use kosher salt to adjust the seasonings just before serving. I always use a Tbsp or so of tomato paste in the sauce before it goes in the oven, as well as blanched and browned salt pork. I also use sauteed regular onions in the oven (occasionally I do braise on top of the stove), then remove them and add the browned pearl onions and quartered browned mushrooms just before serving. And if it need a touch up on the cognac, I do that just before serving, but I never add more red wine at this late date. It will taste "rough," but the cognac will not. Good luck!

      1. With any braised (or stewed) meat, thickening comes from one of several sources:
        - flour that the meat was dredged in before browning
        - the breakdown of vegetables such as diced onion during cooking
        - thickener added near the end. That thickener might a slurry (cornstarch or even flour), a blend of of flour and fat (the kneaded butter or a roux), or fatty emulsion like cream or butter. When adding a starch you do need to cook it till the starch gelatinizes. Flour needs a higher temperature for this than cornstarch. That cooking also removes the raw taste of flour.

        1. Thanks for all your responses. A few points:
          * I don't eat pork, so omit the lardons. I have been considering looking for beef crisp, but wasn't sure if that was a decent substitute.
          * I prefer to make the dish in advance, rather than let it marinade beforehand.
          * MTAoFC says that if you dredge the meat in flour and let it sit, the flour is absorbed by the meat and turns gummy. Because I still am slow in the kitchen and have witnesses this gummy business, I sometimes sprinkle the flour into the stew after it is browned. (Several recipes do this, I'm not sure if this "cheating" method works or not.)
          * I will try thickening it with a butter/flour mixture at the end. But, I thought it had to be done off-heat?

          5 Replies
          1. re: E_M

            To your last question, add the buerre manie and bring it to a low boil-it really helps to activate the thickening qualities.

            1. re: E_M

              I don't like dredging meat with flour before browning either. Sometimes I dust with flour after browning, but only if the meat is dry or coated with fat. I don't this if the meat is already releasing its juices.

              Boiling the sauce down is better used as a way of concentrating the flavors than as a way of thickening the sauce. If the sauce is already salty enough, you don't want to concentrate that more.

              I think buerre manie is better as a way of tweaking the thickness of a sauce that already has some flour thickening. It's not as good as a primary thickener.

              1. re: E_M

                E_M, I use a brown paper bag to "dredge" my meat in. I put the flour in the bag, then ONLY as much meat as will fit in the pan at one time without crowding. Brown that batch, then do the next the same way, never allowing the meat to sit after dredging. It's always straight into the pan. Another thing that limits the problems is to use Wondra flour. In my area I can only get it during the holidays, so if I forget to stock up on it, it's internet or wait another year. Good luck!

                1. re: Caroline1

                  Yes! Wondra is great. And I use the flour sparingly and shake off excess carefully.

                  1. re: monavano

                    Wondra is a pre-gelatinized flour that can be added directly to the hot liquid without producing lumps. I haven't used it much myself, but had a roommate in college who knew how to cook one thing - chicken pieces dredged in Wondra and baked!

              2. Remember that Julia's original recipe was fine-tuned while she was living in France.

                Marinating begins to break down the tougher muscle fibres and connective tissue, letting the meat become more tender.

                French beef isn't aged like American beef...so you MUST marinate the beef in the wine overnight ahead of time in order to have any hope at all of having edible meat.

                I made BB in the US without marinating all the time, and it was never a problem. The first time I made it here in France (for company, of course....) we sat down to dinner -- the sauce was brown and thick and glossy, and it smelled heavenly. It was frosty that night, too, so the anticipation was even higher.

                We gnawed and chewed our way through it...it tasted as good as it smelled, but I was mortified to have us all sitting there chewing so hard we could hear it across the room.

                The good news is that French beef is gorgeous to look at -- great color, and nice marbling -- and has a much more "beefy" flavor than its US cousins....but yike...tender it's not.

                1. Thanks all. I don't know why I fuss so. I've made this many times and it's always been delicious. I guess I am just looking to improve my technique. The meat is always so soft you don't need a knife, so I wasn't sure what kind of additional tenderizing the marinading would do. And since I let it sit for a day after it's cooked, I figure that's when it will impart lots of flavor. But dang, that sauce is always so watery.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: E_M

                    Do you use any liquid besides the wine? The wine plus the meat's own juices might be enough, especially if your pot has good tight lid.

                    1. re: paulj

                      Wine and whatever stock/chicken broth I have, and this time I am adding cognac. The lid isn't as tight as I wish (lousy pot) but as the meat always comes out butter soft I didn't think anything of it. Also, this time, I have to simmer it on the stove rather than in the oven.

                      1. re: E_M

                        One other thing you might do to improve the viscosity of the finished dish... Pick up a couple of soup/marrow bones from your butcher, ask him/her to cut them into 2 or 3 inch cubes on their saw. Or beef shanks would also work well, if you can find them. When you get them home, wash them to make sure there are no bone shards sticking to them, then brown them in the pan you brown the beef in and stick them in the pot with the Bourguignon while it's braising, then remove before serving. This SHOULD give you a nice gelatinous smooth finished sauce. But don't leave out any of the other steps either. It will add a bit of depth to the flavor, as well as viscosity to the finished sauce. It's sort of the rough equivalent of adding some really good demi-glace, but a lot cheaper and easier to make. Alternatively you could add some Knox unflavored gelatin, but it wouldn't heighten/brighten the flavor, it would just add the smoothness of a gelatinous stock. Oh, and beef stock is much better than chicken stock. But whatever rings your chimes! '-)

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          That is such an awesome tip, thanks! I will get some marrow bones or shanks. (and sometimes, alas, there is no beef broth handy!)

                          1. re: E_M

                            Oh, you're welcome. But it's been my secret for years, so now it is just between you and me, right? Oh, and if you can't find marrow bones, oxtails will also work. <sigh> I remember when they were soooooooooo cheap! What's wrong with the world? '-)

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              To get a full body stock it is hard to beat cow feet. They are located next to the tripe in the 'menudo fixings' section of the meat market.

                              1. re: paulj

                                Yay ethnic markets! They have things you can rarely find in plain vanilla markets.

                              2. re: Caroline1

                                It'll be between you, me, and the lamppost. I see marrow bones all the time in meat section--now I know what I'll do with them!

                          2. re: E_M

                            and back off on the amount of stock you're using...you can always add more if it's getting too dry, but (as you've found) it's a pain to get rid of too much liquid! The marrow bones below are a great idea, too.