A Keller Recipe


Boeuf Bourguignon is a classic French concoction that braises beef chunks with red wine, preferably a full bodied one such as a Burgundy or a Cabernet Sauvignon. Included also in the stew are garlic, shallots, onions and other aromatics such as thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. It is finished off with pearl onions and lardons and served with boiled potatoes.

           I have come across numerous variations of this popular stew. There was one by Julia Child that looked pretty interesting and another by Anthony Bourdain that was equally appealing. I was all set to make Bourdain’s version – having had much success with his Coq Au Vin– until I revisited the Bouchon cookbook and found that Thomas Keller also had a boeuf bourguignon – a recipe resplendent with a 43 ingredient list.

           One might ask who in their right mind would undertake such an endeavor?! Kitchen masochist comes to mind.  Short of delving into the realms of my muddled brain, and I do hate to psycho-analyze my kitchen sense; I could attribute this unrelenting desire for complex recipes to only one thing — passion. When it comes to food, short cuts are not an option especially if I have the time to make a dish properly. This is not to say that Bourdain’s or Julia’s recipes were inferior to Keller’s – far from it.  The Bouchon recipe just had the necessary intrigue to compel me to make it. In any case, bustling in the kitchen with pots and pans, flour and butter, onions and garlic and having a glass of wine sitting by the cutting board, is a comforting thought I hold on to during any given work week.

             I don’t compromise on ingredients either. It has to be the freshest and be of the best quality I can find – at a reasonable price of course. Many a time has a dish been ruined because one of the ingredients was past its prime. And with a recipe with quite the ingredient list and entailing quite an effort to make, I am not risking a thing.

            So off I went to The Fresh Market on a Thursday evening. The freshest thyme, parsley and leeks were bought. No French carrots were to be found, but cute little organic baby carrots were available. Nice looking bulbs of shallots were also on the shelf. I had to pick through the onions though, but I was able to score some three firm bulbs that had nary a blemish on them. I came up with quite an ingenuous method of figuring out the elements needed for the stew. I typed up a worksheet. Yes a worksheet! Download boeuf_bourguinon.xls

Geeky, really, but very helpful.  The recipe is more about vertical cooking. The columns correspond to a cooking stage with the ingredient list needed to complete it.  The rows will give you an idea how much you need to have of a certain ingredient for the entire recipe.

            Friday morning, it got quite chilly. It was almost as if the weather was cooperating with my stew-making aspirations. I went to Sur La Table for a few choice items. My favorite take of that day was the snazzy blue colander I intended to rinse my herbs in. If I was going to be chopping herbs all day might as well have something stylish to wash them in. My plan was to get the meat braising done so all I had to do for Saturday dinner was to prepare the garnishments.

           Keller’s recipe is indeed one of refinement. His technique requires removing impurities at every opportunity. This includes removing the fat and vegetable particles from the sauce which tend to interfere with the flavor and dull the color. In summary, he separates the meat from the braising liquid by a cheesecloth so vegetable particles do not cling to the meat but still allows the liquid to flavor the meat. Then he discards all the mushy vegetables and cooks the garnishments with the same herbs and spices he used for the stew. What you have then is perfectly cooked meat, vibrantly orange carrots and firm potatoes. 

Boeuf Bourguignon

       Adapted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller


See Worksheet

For the Red Wine Reduction:

     Combine all ingredients for the wine reduction in a large heavy bottomed pot that will able to hold the meat in a single layer. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the wine is reduced to glaze about 50 to 60 minutes.

For the Beef:

     Cut the meat to 1 ½ inch by 1 inch thick. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1/8 inch of Canola oil in a sauté pan. Brown the beef in batches. Make sure not to crowd the beef in the sauté pan so the beef does not steam-cook and will brown properly on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet and proceed with the next batch.

Preheat oven to 350 F

     Add the onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves to the reduction and toss together. Cut a piece of cheese cloth large enough to cover the length and width of the pot. Wet it and wring it dry and lay it gently over the vegetables to form a nest for the meat. (The cheesecloth will allow the liquid to flavor the meat but prevent the herbs and vegetables from clinging to it). Place the short ribs on the cheesecloth and add enough stock to come up just to the top of the meat.

     Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium high heat. Cover the meat with a parchment lid (parchment paper with a hole in the middle that covers the contents of the pot) and with the pot lid. Place in the oven and reduce the heat to 325F. Braise the beef for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

     Transfer the meat to an oven proof pot or container. Remove and discard the cheesecloth. Strain the braising liquid and bring to a boil. Skim off the fat that rises to the top. Strain the liquid again over the beef. Let it cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day, or up to 3 days.

For the Garnish:

Preheat oven to 375 °F


    Put the ingredients in a pot with the potatoes. Cover with water for at least an inch over the potatoes and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a paring knife. Discard the seasonings and slice the potato lengthwise in half. Set aside.


     Put the ingredients in a pot with the carrots. Cover with water for at least 1 ½ inch over the carrots and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the carrots can be pierced easily with a paring knife. Discard seasonings and set aside.


    Spread the lardons in a single layer in a non-stick baking pan and place in the oven. After about 10 minutes, stir the lardons and return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until they are browned. Remove from the oven and drain on paper towels.


    Trim away the stems of the mushrooms (I used the stems in the wine reduction). Heat the butter in a large skillet until the butter has melted and the foam has subsided. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium low, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook gently, tossing often, until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

To Complete

        Preheat oven to 250°F

    Place the container with the beef in the oven for a few minutes just enough to liquefy the stock. Remove from oven and turn the oven up to 400F. Carefully remove the pieces of beef to a deep ovenproof sauté pan. Strain the liquid over the beef.

   Place the pan in the oven and warm the beef for about 5 minutes basting occasionally with the cooking liquid. Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and onions and toss gently. Return to the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables and meat are hot.

    Meanwhile, rewarm the lardons in a small skillet.

    Remove the sauté pan from the oven and gently toss in the parsley. With a slotted spoon, divide the meat and vegetables among serving plates or bowls. Spoon some of the sauce over each serving. Distribute the lardons among the plates and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Serve with Dijon mustard.


Cooking Notes:

    The recipe itself is not hard to make. How hard can boiling potatoes or carrots be? It is laborious in the preparation of the onions, leeks, shallots and the rest of the aromatics but once you get your mise en place knocked off, the rest is simply throwing it in the pot and letting it boil and then simmer. I also braised at a lower temperature, 300 °F. I have always done this after Cook’s Illustrated did a test on pot roast and it was determined that this was the temperature that the connective tissue will break down without drying out the meat.

      The one thing I am not certain about is what to do with the braising liquid after the meat is done. It did say to boil, but did not mention to what extent it should be reduced. There was a lot of the liquid left, so after I strained it back into the pot to boil, I let it reduce to almost half – until it was thick enough to be a sauce rather than a stock. I also adjusted the salt at this time.

     I apologize for not taking a plated picture of the dish for we were all eager to eat it. I also prepared Nigella’s Chicken recipe so my hands were quite full.

       Keller’s bouef bourguignon was simply delicious! The meat was so tender and perfectly cooked. The resulting sauce was bursting with the essence of all the aromatics. Not one spice or herb stood out but all blended to complement the beefy flavor of the short ribs. Also, the garnishments finished off the dish to perfection. Well you can’t go wrong with crisped lardons now, can you?

* Preparing pearl onions

    1 bay leaf

    12 black peppercorns

    1 thyme sprig

     Kosher salt

     2 tsp red wine vinegar for red onions, champagne vinegar for yellow or white   

To peel the onions, cut an X in the root end of each onion and place in a bowl. Meanwhile, bring to a boil enough water to cover the onions. Pour the boiling water over the onions. When the onion skins have softened enough to be peeled, drain the onions. Peel them when they are cool enough to handle. Trim the roots if necessary.

Place the onions in a saucepan that will hold them in a single or double layer, add cold water to cover them by 1 inch, and season the water with the bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the onions are tender when pierced with a paring knife.

Drain off all but 2 tbs. of water from the pan and stir in the vinegar. (The onions can be kept at room temperature for up to 1 hour or covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day)

          We had snow that Saturday the stew was to be completed! I was shocked to see the entire back yard covered in white. Where in the world did spring go? The first thought on my mind was not the dinner I was preparing that day but poor Mrs. Bluebird that was incubating some eggs in one of my nest boxes. Surely Mr. Bluebird cannot find any food to bring to his sweetie in all this snowiness. I had a view of their feeder from my bedroom window and sure enough the pair was waiting to be fed.  Anyway, I leave you all with a picture of Mr. Blue standing guard over the shepherd’s hook that holds their day’s supply of food.(Even birds are passionate about food!)


38 thoughts on “A Keller Recipe

  1. I'm definitely not enough of a kitchen masochist, so I've stayed faithful to Bourdain's so-much-simpler BB recipe. I've made it few times, and still haven't got tired of it:-)

  2. This dish is quite amazing. The taste, the aroma are wonderful. I was very surprised to bite into the beef expecting rubber since it's been cooking for so long but it was soooo tender and juicy!
    As for Mr Bluebird, I need to say we've received a few letters of complaint from him since their food was delivered passed 7AM as they expect it since my wife is too busy in test kitchen and runs late sometimes!

  3. Beef bourg was the very first dish my husband made for me when we started going out, and of course I was smitten. However, he would laugh if I showed him a 43-ingredient recipe, and asked if he loved me enough to make anything that complicated. I'll be he says "no"! Hooray for you for taking this on.

  4. Woohoo! What a feat! I am sure it tastes amazing…what with all the love and care you poured into it 🙂 One day I would love to take this on…so thank you for the notes and the brilliant excel sheet! You are a hero! 🙂

  5. Hi Brilynn – I know what you mean. Thomas Keller is quite the chef.
    Hi Pille – I will try Bourdain's recipe next , but i will apply some of the principles of Keller's recipe.
    Thanks "Hungry" Hubby. Since it was all eaten by last night…I guess we really did enjoy it. As for the bluebird pair , they are just spoiled rotten.
    Hi Lydia – when I presented the hubby with the worksheet, he said "Are you sure you want to make this?" Of course I said " heck yeh!" It really isn't 43 individual ingredients, it is just listed that way :).
    Thanks Joey! It was quite a joy to make too seeing the transformation of the sauce and the meat. I can't stop thinking of your Shrimp and Aligue post on your site.It is haunting my dreams :).

  6. I'm right with you Veron. Keller's recipes are lovely in all those steps and I really enjoy the process. The results are without parallel.
    Fantastic bluebird photo…I really enjoy the city wild animals!

  7. Please, I am going to be selfish but I hope you NEVER stop cooking my home foods! This was and still is sunday dinner. The only variant is my dad's osso bucco once in a while.

  8. Holy crap – we do share the same brain. I have several excel spread sheets containing my ingredient lists for easier shopping – ohh and they are listed in the order of the aisles at the local food mart. *blush*

    Looks heavenly! I wanna come over for dinner when you are cooking!


  9. OMG — admittedly, this is two years since you posted about this recipe. About a month ago I tried this for my two stepsons for a rare visit home from college. What a huge success it was and what fun it was to prepare. (Dijon mustard as an accompaniment was particularly revelatory). But what blows my mind is that there is someone else who approached this recipe with a spreadsheet. That was exactly what I did (and also felt geeky for doing it). Coincedentally, I am preparing this dish again this weekend for friends. I just had to have one more crack at it before putting it away until next winter.
    I'sm so glad I found this website. Thanks

  10. Veron,

    I’m making this dish myself today and tomorrow, I’m done making the glaze and now I have the beef and the stock marinating in the fridge until tomorrow. The one thing that wasn’t clear is what to do with the lardons, do I put them on the side of the bowl of stew or in the stew at the end?

    Like you, I also wasn’t clear on how much to reduce the wine, it just says to a glaze.

    great post! thanks for sharing your take on the dish. I’m going to check out the rest of your site now.


  11. Veronica, this is a splendid article, and I have linked to it from my own post about beef bourg.

    But I have a question: The recipe you have shared is, as you say, “adapted” from Keller’s. How close is it? Did you type it pretty much verbatim? (And your Excel spreadsheet is tremendous!)

    I know you will truly enjoy my own article, which includes an ironic French perspective on Child’s version, as well as an actual copy of her recipe (made available by Knopf); a Wine Spectator video about wine pairing (which refers to Keller’s recipe); and other resources you and your readers will no doubt enjoy.

    Read it here: http://tinyurl.com/vivelecliche


  12. A very ingenious way of presenting this recipe. I’ve done spreadsheets with Don the Beachcomber drinks such as the Zombie and Mai Tai and once with a chicken breast recipe with the ingredients in columns for 2, 4, 6, and 8 servings. But you’ve taken it to its logical conclusion.

    BUT, aren’t you skirting rather blithely in your recipe over what must be a *key* ingredient for an obsessive perfectionist such as Keller? I refer, of course, to the “4 cups veal stock”. Just where did *that* appear from?

    I recently got the Ad Hoc cookbook by Keller and right now I have marinating in the fridge a 3-piece of pork belly that I’m going to turn into his “pork belly braised in beef stock”. But FIRST I had to spend two days with enormous pots and pans MAKING the damn beef stock! So right now I also have in the fridge the beef stock….

    I repeat, therefore, where did you veal stock come from?

    Did you make it? (I have little containers of homemade jus de veau lie in the freezer, but jus isn’t stock.)

    Buy it?

    Fake it? With canned chicken stock? With plain water? Or what?

    Aside from that fairly major quibble, however, your recipe sounds delicious. I have just printed up the spreadsheet and will do it sometime.

    By the way, I’ve been making bourgy since 1964, have tried *dozens* of recipes, and my standard is still the old one in the early ’60s New York Times cookbook by Craig Whosis. Fairly elaborate, has all the steps, and tastes wonderful. (He doesn’t tell you to degrease it, but that’s about the only flaw….)

  13. I could have used knorr chicken bouillon cubes. 🙂 However, if memory serves me right I bought my veal stock from our neighborhood butchery.

  14. A neighborhood boucherie that sells veal stock?! Do you live next to the French Laundry in Yountville?

    I’m in Tucson, Arizona, where they would be more likely to sell “jus de roadkill”….

  15. I have made this several times and the meat always seems to be be dry and tough. I was thinking the cooking time might not be long enough, as I have read other similar recipes cooking for up to 4 hours?


  16. If the beef used is short ribs, even boned, I don’t see how it can possibly be tender unless it’s cooked a minimum of three hours. Short ribs are *tough*! I have a *wonderful* recipe called Short Ribs in Dark Beef from the celebrated LUTÈCE in which they’re cooked for three hours at 300 degrees. When they’re cooked properly, however, I agree with Thomas Keller — they’re incomparable in stews. Maybe the best dish of all with them is in a Carbonnade a la Flamande recipe made with the wonderful Belgian beer Chimay Ale Pères Trappistes Grande Réserve…. I don’t think you can hurt short ribs by cooking them slowly for 3, 4, or even 5 hours. Tenderness and flavor are the key here, and they take time….

  17. Further to the Veal Stock discussion: somewhat to my surprise I’ve just returned from AJ’s, an upscale Arizona chain of supermarkets, and in the frozen food area I found a 16-oz. (2 cup) container of Veal Stock prepared by a company called Perfect Addition in Newport Beach, California. $4.99 for the 2 cups, a little more than they’re charging for Beef Stock, Chicken Stock, and, I think, Lobster Base. At that price I don’t think I’ll try one of those classic old French recipes for making, say, demi-glace, where the recipe says, “Take 3 gallons of veal stock, add….” But it’s nice to know that for $10 I could do Keller’s recipe for bourgy. But would it be better than if I used 4 or 5 chicken bouillon cubes instead? I seriously doubt it…. (The only online reference I could find for Veal Stock in this country was of a company that sold Veal Demi-Glace and *said* that you could simply water it down if you wanted Veal Stock instead. Well, yes, but Veal Stock isn’t supposed to have Madeira and other flavorings in it….)

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  21. I just completed making the dish to the point of letting the beef cool in the stock (and it was a great stock) and then in the frig for two days prior to completing the recipe. It’s true about degreasing after the short ribs are braised. It only makes sense to do it at least a day ahead to the fat from the ribs can congeal on top to be removed. As for refinement, I did it so much I ran out of cheesecloth! Great aromas, and I did have one piece of beef – delicious. I too intend to reduce the liquid somewhat. Since there is no thickener of any kind – that would not be “refined”, I do want to reduce the braising liquid somewhat. As for the cheesecloth, it does help some but you really have to get it under and aroud the vegetables to keep it from floating up. But it didn’t take much to lift out the beef pieces, much easier than no cheesecloth at all. I am doing a whole Bistro dinner from “Bouchon”. But it really isn’t so bad if all the mis en place is done. Then it is a matter of just putting it together. And so many can (and should) be done ahead. Choose wisely and don’t get caught short with many last minute things to do. And understand the flow of the recipes before you begin.

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