A Refined Beef Stew for a Festive Holiday

A Refined Beef Stew for a Festive Holiday
It’s no secret to any of my friends that boeuf bourguignon is my go-to dish for winter entertaining. I love to serve it with garlicky cheese grits and crusty French bread and a big salad with lemony vinaigrette. When I do cook stew for a special occasion, though, I love to depart from my old (and very easy) standby. For Christmas or New Year's Eve, I'll pull out my tattered copy of Patricia Wells’ divine cookbook, At Home in Provence, and head straight to the recipe for Monsieur Henry’s Three Beef Daube.
Like so many of the best things in life, this recipe was first introduced to me by Julia Reed. It was New Year's Eve 1999, and I was lucky enough to find myself in balmy New Orleans, staying with Julia in her fabulous French Quarter apartment on - of course - Bourbon Street. Everyone was still buzzing about Y2K and whether or not a computer apocalypse would befall us at the stroke of midnight, but Julia and I were much more concerned about the texture of our blinis - which I had botched by using heavy cream instead of milk, but which turned out to be divine - than we were about impending tech disaster.
Julia was hosting a pre-party dinner for a few friends in order to fortify ourselves before the masked ball we would all attend later. Being her sous chef, I was tasked with slicing onions and garlic and orange peel, and well into the prep, it occurred to me that this was a pretty complicated dish. "Believe me," Julia assured me, "it's worth it."
And worth it, it was.
I remember that night so well. The loveliness of the champagne, the caviar on slightly puffier-than-usual blinis, and the delicious alchemy of wine and citrus and slow-cooked beef atop cheese grits and served with a subtle Cotes-du-Rhone.
It was the perfect repast for a special celebration. Whether you're hosting Christmas Eve or New Year's Dinner at a lavish table for 20 or in front of the fire with your nearest and dearest, I highly recommend Patricia Wells' recipe. P.S. Remember to prepare the beef in marinade 24 hours in advance.
  • 6 medium onions, peeled
  • 6 gloves garlic
  • 5 pounds stewing beef, preferably two or three different cuts, choosing from top or bottom round, heel of round, shoulder area or shoulder blade, neck or short ribs (I used top, bottom and short ribs)
  • 2 bottles of sturdy red wine, such as a Cotes du Rhone
  • Handful of fresh thyme
  • 3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt 7 freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • One 16-oz can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes
  • 4 beef marrow bones cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 3 ounces fresh fatback, cut into thin strips
  • Grated zest of one orange
  • 4 ounces of imported black olives, pitted


  1. Slice an onion in half lengthwise. Place is cut side down on cutting board and slice crosswise into very thin slices, Slice four more onions in this manner. Half the remaining onion and insert three cloves into each half.
  2. In an large nonreactive vessel, combine the meat, onions, wine, thyme, bay leaves and nutmeg. Cover and set aside to marinate at room temperature for 24 hours
  3. The next day, Strain out and separate the onions and the meat. Reserve the marinade liquid. In a large, covered casserole, heat the oil over moderate hear, hot but not smoking. Add the onions, reduce heat to low and gently cook onions, 4 to 5 minutes, With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a platter. In the remaining fat, begin to brown the beef, carefully regulate the heat to avoid scorching the meat. Do not crowd the pan, and be patient. Good browning is essential, so the beef retains all of its flavor. The meat should be browned on all sides in several batches, taking about 10 minutes to thoroughly brown each batch. As each batch is browned, use tongs to transfer the beef to a platter. Immediately season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Once meat is browned, return it to the casserole along with the onions, tomato paste and marinade liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a low simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Add the carrots, tomatoes, marrow bones and fat back and stir to evenly distribute the ingredients. Return to a simmer and cook, covered, for2 hours more. Taste for seasoning. Test the meat for tenderness; if necessary, allow the daube to simmer for 1 hour more or until the beef is fully tender. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, add the orange zest and black olives.
  5. The daube will be more flavorful and less fatty if it is allowed to rest for 24 hours before serving, but this is not a requirement. Allow the daube to cool thoroughly at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until serving time. To serve, skim the fat off the top of the cooled stew. Gently reheat and serve over garlic cheese grits.
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