Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
With the weather turning cool, it's time to swap grilled fare for roasts, stews and braises. The French dip sandwich—essentially a roast beef sandwich with au jus dipping sauce—makes a solid entry on the list of early fall dishes. It's all cozy, savory meat and broth, served on a buttered, toasted baguette, and does away with the pomp and circumstance of a serious roast. It’s also a good excuse to pull out some of the more tannic reds you may have been avoiding all summer, as I did with a $17 Bordeaux I found in my local store.
What had me thinking Bordeaux for the match was not the French-French pairing of food to wine—the French dip sandwich is actually an American invention—but my experience working on a similar recipe. The ingredient list for this sandwich is very close to that for the French onion soup we covered two years ago: onions, beef broth, bread and optional cheese. Bordeaux is the traditional match for beef consommé, and it worked so well with the soup that I thought it might find success here as well.
I went basic for the first trial of this sandwich recipe, simply salting the meat and braising it in a mix of water and onions that goes on to become the dip. When considering a dish that comes with a liquid side, the wine functions something like a second sauce, and one that needs to match the seasoning in the broth even more than the meat and bread. But you’ve got an advantage if you've decided beforehand which wine you're drinking. Throw a dash in the sauce before it goes in the oven and it will help to build a bridge. Tasting the result, I knew I was on the right path: The wine felt rounder with the beef and broth as the dusty grip of the tannins eased a little.
But what else could be done? I wondered if I could use the “spices” in the tasting note for the Château Recougne Bordeaux Supérieur 2009 to build a better connection between the food and the wine. Borrowing from Vietnamese cooking, where spiced beef broths form the base of many a noodle soup, I added some warm spices—cinnamon, cloves and black peppercorns—to the liquid. Here we had a true winner. The sandwich tasted more exciting and three-dimensional, and the wine truly perked up with the beef and the broth, with the fruit flavors coming forward.
Some French dip sandwich recipes call for add-ons such as melted cheese or horseradish mayonnaise, so for the third trial I wanted to see what the wine could handle. I tried a basic provolone (not smoked), melted over the beef and onions. The pairing with the wine was fine—not better than without the cheese, but not a disaster either. If you want the additions then go for it, but just know they’re not necessarily going to enhance the match.
A few notes: For the beef, any good braising cut will do. I used top sirloin because that’s what looked best in the store, but eye of round, chuck, brisket or sirloin tips will also do. And if you don’t have time to braise meat, buy sliced deli roast beef and heat it up in spiced beef broth. Add a crisp green salad with a simple vinaigrette for a good contrasting side dish.
This sandwich concept works well with whatever leftover roast or braised meat you might have, so come the holidays (post-Thanksgiving turkey French dip, anyone?) this is a trusty recipe to have in your back pocket.
Pair with a red Bordeaux, such as Château Recougne Bordeaux Supérieur 2009 (88 points, $17)
Total time: 25 minutes prep time (2 hours total)
Approximate food cost: $25
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Season the beef with salt. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and sear on both sides until brown. Add the onions, spices and wine, and then add water until the beef is nearly covered. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pan with a lid, place the pan in the oven and cook for 90 minutes, or until the beef is tender.
2. Remove the beef from the pan and let rest for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid into a bowl, reserving the sliced onions but removing the cinnamon stick and whole spices. Adjust the seasoning for the liquid, adding salt if necessary.
3. Butter the bread for the sandwiches and toast until crisp. Slice the meat into thin slices. Assemble the sandwiches with the beef and onions, and serve with a side of the beef stock for dipping. Serves 4