Not Julia’s Beef Stew

Not Julia’s Beef Stew

I love Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon – but truly American beef stew is different, and if you’re looking to achieve a real, flavorful meat n’ potatoes kinda night, this is your recipe!

My version comes together quickly, with items you probably have in your pantry and freezer. I throw in an extra step of browning not only the beef, but the potatoes in oil and butter. You might not think it’s worth the effort, but trust me, it is!

Here’s how I do it. I cut about 2 pounds of beef into 1 ½ inch cubes. I had a top round roast in my freezer, so I used that, but you can use any cut of beef that adapts well to stewing or braising – like chuck roast, short ribs and brisket. Stay away from leaner cuts (like steaks) as they will toughen up during the long cooking process.

My friends at have all the meaty details on how to make your meat n’ potatoes night “a cut” above!

I cut baby yellow or red potatoes in half – about a 1 ½ pound bag. Place them in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and some dried thyme. I peeled 8 large carrots and cut them into chunks and I diced 1 big onion.

Place about a third of beef cubes into a resealable plastic bag with flour, salt and pepper and shake. I do this in batches so that all the cubes are coated evenly. Heat olive oil and butter (about 2 to 3 tablespoons of each) in a large, deep pot over high heat. Turn on the fan, we want the butter and olive oil smokin’ hot. Place the coated cubes into the pot. Brown on one side, about 1 minute. Flip and brown on the other side, about 1 minute more. Transfer the brown beef to a platter. Repeat this process until all the beef is browned. You can add additional olive oil and butter in between browning. I did!

Remove the pot from the heat for a minute and take a deep breath. That browning goes fast! Add more olive oil and butter to the pot. Place the potatoes, cut side down in the pot (as best you can) and return the pot to the heat. Let the potatoes brown for about 2 minutes. Flip them over when there is a nice golden crust on the cut side. Transfer the potatoes back to the bowl.

Place the carrots into the pot and toss them around until they just begin to brown. Season with salt, pepper and a bit of cumin. Transfer the browned carrots to the same bowl with the potatoes.

Place the onions into the pot. Season the onions with salt and pepper. When the onions are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes, pour in about half of a bottle of red wine. Reduce the heat to medium. Simmer the wine until it reduces by about half. Pour in about 3 cups of beef stock. Stir in about 3 tablespoons of tomato paste. Place the meat back into the pot. Reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer the stew for at least 90 minutes. After ninety minutes, add in the potatoes and carrots. Continue simmering the stew until the meat is very tender, about 3 hours total cooking time.

There you have it. An all-American beef stew with a bit of a fried potato twist. I promise, you’re gonna love it – it’s one of the defining recipes in my book, SUNDAY BEST DISHES: a cookbook for Passionate Cooks!

Childlike Delight over Beef Bourguignon. My Fast Skillet Version of Julia’s Classic!

Childlike Delight over Beef Bourguignon. My Fast Skillet Version of Julia’s Classic!

A cityscape in Bordeaux…the lush countryside is right around the bend. I promise to get to it after popping into this cafe…

A trip to Bordeaux, France is a journey through vineyards tucked into lush hillsides. Single story stone chateaus haven’t changed since they were built. Sheep roam free, chickens produce eggs with golden yolks and the wine…well, there is the wine…descriptions of which, I’ll save for another time!

French food is artistry on a plate. Each item is perfectly presented. Vegetables are diced precisely the same size – little squares to be exact. Proteins are masterfully portioned. The desserts are too beautiful to eat. And, just when you decide it would be a sin to dive into the plate placed in front of you, you taste… and ah! … you know why you made the trip.

I was the most surprised at a meal we had at the local bistro, Pot-au-feu. We translated the dish to mean “beef stew”, which we recognized as a classic family meal. I expected a thick, rich stew with a fragrant red wine sauce, much like Julia Child’s famous beef bourguignon. But, instead, we ended up devouring a veggie-studded broth, with a slice of tender beef on the top.

Beef Bourguignon at French bistro, Pot-au-feu Beef Bourguignon at French bistro, Pot-au-feu

You can see from the photo above…It looked to be a simple dish, yet nuanced flavors were there in every bite. This is achieved by creating a broth from marrow and oxtail bones, infused with leeks and carrots. It was delicious, but I found myself wanting just a bite or two of the other famous French beef dish – one I vowed to make upon my return home, The Art of French Cooking propped up on my counter…a few shortcuts and modifications, though – sorry, Julia!

Home again, home again. After the jet lag wore off, I was back in my kitchen, cooking up a couple of my French favorites; among the first: a traditional wine-laced beef stew. Mine is a tad easier to make, as I favor the lightening quick stovetop and skillet approach over Julia’s traditional overnight method.

If you’re in the mood for a dish from Bordeaux, try my recipe for a skillet version of Beef Bourguignon, taken from my Sunday Best Dishes book –due out in print this summer!

Skillet Beef Bourguignon

The delectable finished product The delectable finished product

 Normally, the rich taste of beef cooked in wine takes hours, but in this recipe, it’s on your Sunday supper table in minutes. A tender cut of meat, and steaming the veggies before putting them in the sauce is key. Another secret: a little slurry of cornstarch and water gives the sauce a luscious sheen. Serve this dish over Polenta with Asiago Cheese or Creamy Smashed Parmesan Potatoes.


1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces bacon, cut into pieces (about 4 slices)

3 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces, blanched

1 (10-ounce bag) frozen pearl onions, thawed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse pepper

1 cup cognac

1 cup red wine

2 cups homemade beef broth, or low sodium beef broth

1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the bacon and cook until golden and beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the beef and cook until just browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. The cubes should be very rare in the center. Transfer the meat and bacon to a bowl.

Turn off the heat. Pour in the cognac. Add the vegetables. Turn on the heat and simmer until most of the liquid disappears. Turn off the heat and pour in the wine. Turn the heat back on and simmer until most of the liquid disappears. Pour in 1 cup beef broth. Reduce until most of the liquid disappears. Pour in the last cup of broth, and reduce until there is about 1 cup liquid remaining in the skillet with the vegetables. This process will take about 10 minutes.

Add the meat back into the sauce. Stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook until the sauce is smooth and shiny, about 2 minutes. The meat should remain rare to medium-rare. Sprinkle fresh parsley over top.