Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. 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 feast for family or friends.
Julia Child could really do no wrong, especially when it comes to large, luxurious stews. They’re decadent and hearty, ideal for comforting a crowd, but, boy, do they use a lot of pans and take a lot of time.
Inspired by the Catalan-style rice and beef stews that are prominent in the small French province of Roussillon, Boeuf à la Catalane is a deep cut from Mastering the Art of French Cooking that my mother made several times each winter. Wanting to capture that magic for myself, I created this variation from necessity: I live in a tiny apartment in New York City, with barely any sunlight, and much less room to be banging around several pots and pans at a time. This recipe cuts down on the number of pans and carefully increases the heat to slash the cooking time, creating an end-of-winter feast with much less hassle. (My apologies to Julia).
When trying to cut down the cooking time on such an elaborate recipe, it’s critical that every step is seasoned properly. In the Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipe, everything melds together over the course of three hours, creating a complex, heavily flavored dish. But sacrificing time doesn’t mean having to skimp on flavor; lightly salting throughout ensures that each morsel will still taste delicious without taking up the better part of an afternoon.
Another change from the original recipe is opting for red wine rather than white to deglaze the bottom of the pan. My instinct was that, when reading this recipe, most folks would decide to pair a bold red from southern France or northern Spain with Catalan beef stew, and I’d hate for anyone to willy-nilly open an extra bottle and have any go to waste.
If you’re stumped on which of the many wine options to choose (here are some suggestions from Roussillon and throughout Iberia), try a vibrant young Rioja, with enough spice and backbone to cut through the parmesan cheese and savory morsels of beef. I grabbed a bottle of Bodegas Beronia Tempranillo Rioja Crianza 2018, which is fairly easy to find and a great deal at only $15. Along with the berry and cherry fruit, this Tempranillo-based blend has herbal and earthy notes that blend in nicely with the stew seasonings.
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Julia Child’s Boeuf à la Catalane, Simplified
Based on Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Copyright © 1961)
Pair with a bold Spanish red, such as Bodegas Beronia Tempranillo Rioja Crianza 2018 (88 points, $15)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Approximate food costs: $23
- ¼ pound of thin-cut streaky bacon
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds of lean stew beef, cut into ½-inch cubes
- One medium yellow onion, diced
- Four cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup unwashed rice (jasmine preferred)
- One cup dry red wine
- 2 to 3 cups of stock (chicken or beef)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Two crushed dried bay leaves
- One 28-ounce can of peeled tomatoes, strained and chopped
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut bacon into ½-inch wide slices. In a Dutch oven, fry bacon in olive oil over medium heat until cooked, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate with a paper towel.
2. Pat stew beef dry with a paper towel, lightly salt and add to the Dutch oven, browning on all sides, for around 10 minutes. Transfer to the plate with bacon.
3. Bring the heat to medium-low and add the yellow onion and garlic to the jus left over from the beef. Add a small pinch of salt and stir until the onions and garlic are lightly translucent. Add rice, stirring to toast; let the grains get a bit of color but be careful that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Spoon rice and onion mixture into a bowl and set aside.
4. Add the wine to the Dutch oven, stirring and scraping the bottom to pick up any caramelized bits. Add beef and bacon back to the Dutch oven, and then pour in stock to just cover the meat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add thyme and bay leaf. Set the pot in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
5. Right before you take the stew out of the oven, pluck the peeled tomatoes from the can and give them a rough chop. There will be leftover tomato sauce in the can, which you can reserve and use in red-sauce pastas or other dishes.
6. Take the Dutch oven out and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Stir in the tomatoes, and return pot to the oven for another 30 minutes.
7. Again, take the Dutch oven out and stir in the rice mixture. Return pot to the oven for 20 more minutes. Check on the rice at the 10-minute mark, and if it seems too dry, add more stock.
8. Take out the Dutch oven and fold the parmesan cheese into the stew. Serve with crusty bread or a green salad with a vinaigrette, as Julia suggests. Serves 4-6.