Dan and I are both blessed with wonderful families, and although all of us live in different cities, we are fortunate to be able to travel to see them at the holidays (as well as other times throughout the year.) Holidays are filled with traditions, and like most, each of our extended families have their own little customs and practices that make a holiday special (possibly the biggest and most-debated of which is the timing of opening gifts at Christmas. I come from a Christmas-Eve-Gift-Opening family, while Dan’s family always opened gifts on Christmas morning. Since we travel to be with family each Christmas (last year’s trip to Paris being the exception), we follow the customs of whichever family we are spending the 25th with, and haven’t had to draw any lines in the sand at our own home. Yet.) Because we spend most of the week or two surrounding Christmas traveling to spend time with our extended families, we decided several years ago to create our own holiday tradition for just the two of us — spending New Year’s Eve at home together, cooking a fabulous meal and watching a classic movie. The meals and movies are always different (we rang in 2011 with mussels in champagne broth and the movie “Vertigo”), but the underlying theme is the same — make an effort to cook something special that may take a little more time or technique than usual, and enjoy each other’s company. Fresh off our trip to Paris, this year we decided to make beef bourguignon, using this recipe from French chef Eric Ripert. While the movie that night (Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt“) was good, but not great, the rich and meaty stew was layered with flavor and was well worth all the time and effort required to prepare it. Plus the recipe involves fire, and Dan loves (safely!) making fire in the kitchen.
The ingredients are pretty simple: beef chuck, celery, a carrot, onion, garlic, mushrooms, red wine, fresh thyme, parsley, a bay leaf, black peppercorns, canola oil, 1 slice of bacon (optional), brandy, chicken stock, flour and salt & pepper. (Festive Christmas tree lights in the background also optional.)
Chop up the onion, celery, carrot, mushrooms and garlic and place them in a large bowl.
Prepare the sachet of herbs by placing thyme (we didn’t have any fresh, so we used dried thyme), parsley, a bay leaf and peppercorns in the middle of a piece of cheesecloth…
…then gather the edges together and use kitchen twine to tie it up into a little pouch.
Cut the beef into 1-inch cubes.
Add the beef to the bowl of veggies, then add the red wine. Yup, the whole bottle.
Add the sachet (submerge the pouch part containing the herbs) and refrigerate overnight.
After the beef and veggies have marinated overnight, remove the sachet and discard it, then strain the beef and veggies. Place a bowl under the strainer to catch the red wine, which will be used later in the cooking process.
Separate the veggies from the beef and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear the beef until nicely browned on both sides.
While searing the beef, heat the leftover red wine to a boil, skim the foam off the top, then set the wine aside off the heat.
After all the beef is seared, remove the beef to a plate and set it aside. Discard all but about a tablespoon of the oil/rendered fat in the pot, then add the sliced bacon and cook until crispy. Although this step is not entirely necessary, we think it adds yet another depth of flavor to the finished dish. Plus, when cooking a special occasion meal, we don’t mind multiple steps. And we love bacon.
Add the marinated veggies to the pot and cook until softened and lightly browned — 5-7 minutes.
The French, fancy way to de-glaze the pot is with fire. Pour about 1/2 a cup of brandy over the veggies, carefully light the brandy, then let it cook off until the flame goes out. If you’d rather not play with fire in the kitchen, you could de-glaze the pan by pouring in a cup or so of chicken stock, then scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. (But we think de-glazing with brandy and fire adds flavor, as well as a touch of extravagance.)
Add the seared beef, reserved red wine and chicken stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer the bourguignon until the beef becomes tender — about 1.5 hours.
Stir the flour into a little bit of water, then slowly whisk the flour water into the stew. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens and the beef becomes even more tender — about 30 more minutes.
We served the beef bourguignon with a potato gratin (which we will make again and post here — it was crazy good.) Despite being extremely un-photogenic, this elegantly delicious beef stew was perfect for celebrating our New Year’s Eve tradition.