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Boeuf Bourguignon

The late sixties found me living in Germany.  It was in Trier - Treves if you’re French - that I had based myself. Apart from the many Deutsche Gastätte there were only two other restaurants in the town; one Chinese and one Balkan. However and luckily for me, there was a large French garrison stationed there and they had a large and imposing  building in the town centre for their officer’s mess.  I was an honorary member.

The food served in the club was first rate and it was here that I was first introduced to couscous, which was very popular amongst the aspirants and appeared on the menu every Friday; accompanied by as much Algerian Rosé as one could drink. Another favourite was the  boeuf  bourguignon, also with as much table wine as one could manage.

Following one rather wild party with some of the younger officers, during which I taught them how to dance the Oki-Koki; next day to be somewhat embarrassingly confronted in my regular watering hole, Der Schwartze  Ocshen, by two French military policemen who kindly requested that I accompanied them for a meeting with their colonel.  On arrival at the club I found three of my prior evening’s drinking companions standing rigidly to attention outside the commander’s office; obviously terrified at what the outcome of their un-officer like behaviour would be – the French military discipline for even minor offences was notoriously hard. I was curious but unconcerned; the French military having no jurisdiction over me.

The three aspirants were marched in by the two MPs and although the door was closed I could hear some strong words being spoken. After five minutes it was my turn and I was confronted by a stern faced colonel, sitting behind his desk, with his hat, a kepi, on the desk in front of him. In English he reminded me of the club rules on unbecoming behaviour and advised me that should I be tempted to conduct any future dance classes, they should be held outside of the club and not on his dining tables.

It was when he held up his kepi for me to inspect, that with horror I remembered. The evening before he had arrived in the dining room to see what all the noise was about and I, from my elevated position on a table, had removed his kepi and poured a glass of red wine into it.  Luckily for me – should I have been blacklisted, there would have been no more Couscous on Fridays - he saw the funny side of   the situation and even refused my offer to replace his stained kepi. He said he would keep it as a souvenir and was soon recounting a similar tale of his own riotous behaviour as a  junior officer in Morocco.

I left Trier – or Treves as I also came to know it – shortly afterwards, for greener and more distant  pastures but I still have fond memories of the French Officer’s Club and this week I will offer the boeuf  bourguignon recipe along with a toast to  those long gone, happy,  misspent days - A votre sante!

Now, as is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to prepare a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and correctly flavoured, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man. Fortunately you can prepare it completely ahead, even a day ahead is alright and it will only gain in flavour when reheated.

Boeuf Bourguignon


• 8 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
• 3 pounds well-trimmed boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (from 7-bone chuck roast)
• 1/3 cup all purpose flour
• 1 1/4 pounds boiling onions, peeled
• 3/4 pound large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 12 large garlic cloves, peeled (left whole)
• 3 cups canned beef broth
• 1/2 cup Cognac or brandy
• 2 750-ml bottles red Burgundy wine
• 1 1/4 pounds mushrooms
• 1/3 cup chopped fresh thyme or 2 tablespoons dried
• 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste

Preheat oven to 325°F. Sauté bacon in heavy large Dutch oven over high heat until brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels. Season beef generously with salt and pepper; coat with 1/3 cup flour, using all of flour. Working in 3 batches, brown beef in same pot over high heat, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer meat to large bowl. Add onions and carrots to same pot and sauté until light brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to bowl with beef.
Add 1 cup broth and Cognac to pot; boil until reduced to glaze, scraping up browned bits, about 8 minutes. Return meat and vegetables and their juices to pot. Add wine, mushrooms, thyme, sugar, tomato paste and 2 cups broth. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and place in oven. Cook until beef is tender, about 1 hour 20 minutes.

Ladle liquid from stew into large saucepan. Spoon off fat. Boil liquid until reduced to 2 3/4 cups, about 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour liquid back over beef and vegetables. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.) Rewarm over low heat before serving.

Vegetable and Wine Suggestions

Mashed potatoes are traditionally served with this dish and a green vegetable such as buttered peas would be a good choice. Serve with a fairly full-bodied, young red wine, such as a Côtes du Rhône, Beaujolais,, Bordeaux-St. Émilion, Burgundy or Beaujolais. - Fly at a Smile-Price