“Michael Codron told me this story about Lady Dorothy Macmillan saying to Mme de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace, ‘Now that your husband has achieved so much, is there any particular wish, any desire that you have for the future?’ and Madame replied, ‘Yes – a penis’. Whereupon Gen de Gaulle leaned over and said, ‘No, my dear, in English it is pronounced Happiness'”
From Kenneth William’s diary, 10 April 1966
This is a very French recipe for a beef stew with red wine, with the very English addition of suet dumplings (you can substitute with fried pieces of French bread if you prefer).
The pine nuts, raisins and cinnamon in the Swiss chard add a sweetness and depth to the whole.
In fact it’s a marriage made in heaven – as Florence White said in Good Things In England,
“There is no reason why the famous French cuisine and our fine traditional English cookery should be bitter rivals”
Boeuf Bourgignon was a favourite of Julia Child – the cookery writer who introduced french cooking into the United States in the early fifties (she used chuck rather than shin). Watch the first few minutes of the first episode of her television series, below, then look at the mastery with which Meryl Streep impersonates her in the film Julia and Julie.
Recipe for French Boeuf Bourgignon with English dumplings and Swiss chard
- 1 kg shin of beef (not so expensive), cut into largish chunks. NB ensure the butcher takes off the silvery sinew on the outside first
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 150g smoked bacon, chopped
- 7 banana shallots, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 stalk thyme
- I stalk rosemary
- 4 cloves
- 14 long Indonesian peppercorns – crushed
- two-thirds of a bottle (about three cups, 500 ml) of red wine (guess what you can do with the rest? don’t bother cooking with anything you wouldn’t want to drink…)
- 1½ cups stock made with the same amount of hot water and two beef stock cubes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp soft brown sugar
- 250 g chestnut mushrooms
- 1 kg swiss chard* (tear off stalks and shred) or spinach
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tbsp raisins soaked in 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 teasp smoked salt
- about 400g pack of dumplings (try Aunt Bessie’s, 8 to a pack, available from most supermarkets) or follow this link for how to make them. The secret is in the Marmite, and you can add interest with horseradish or mustard)
- heat oven to 150°C (use the simmering oven of an aga).
- dust the meat with the flour and fry in batches in a large casserole
- remove all the meat, and fry the bacon, six of the shallots, and garlic
- add the herbs and spices
- a minute later add the meat back into the pan
- add wine, stock, tomato paste, and sugar
- cover and cook for three and a half hours
IF POSSIBLE LEAVE OVERNIGHT (or longer)… then…
- about half an hour before you are due to eat heat the oven to 180°C (use the aga baking oven)
- add the mushrooms and the dumplings
- 10. put the stew into the oven – not covered
- 11. in a wok, fry the remaining shallot in a mix of butter and olive oil, just over five minutes.
- 12. add the smoked salt
- 13. add the chard (or spinach), fry for a bit longer
- 14. add the garlic, pine nuts, and cinnamon stick, fry for a bit longer
- 15. add the soaked raisins
- 16. serve with the stew in deep plates as there is lots of gravy
*in season June to August and October to April
“Or take the beef stew, that favourite of brownie and girl scout leaders for cooking projects. People are always messing it up, mostly men. A good cook I know was given something really awful by a fellow. It was stew alright, but the meat had the texture of jerky. She was curious, and after almost breaking a tooth, asked how he had achieved this strange, leatherlike substance.
‘The recipe said to sauté until brown’, said the fellow. ‘So I did’.
‘And how long did you do it for?’ she asked.
‘Oh, an hour or so’, he replied.”
Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking: A Writer In The Kitchen