My Go-to Beef Daube

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We all need a great beef stew in our cooking back pocket, and this one’s mine. It’s fairly classic in its preparation — the meat is browned, then piled into a sturdy pot and slow-roasted with a lot of red wine, a splash of brandy, and some onions, garlic, carrots, and a little herb bouquet to keep it company. It finishes spoon-tender, sweet and winey through and through, and burnished the color of great-grandma’s armoire.

I call this dish a daube, which means it’s a stew cooked in wine and also means that it’s made in a daubière, or a deep casserole, in my case, an enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven. However, a French friend took issue with the name and claimed that what I make, while très délicieuse, is not a daube, but boeuf aux carottes, or beef and carrots. She’s not wrong, but I’m stubbornly sticking with daube because it gives me the leeway to play around.

My first-choice cut for this stew is chuck, which I buy whole and cut into 2- to 3-inch cubes myself. Since the meat is going to cook leisurely and soften, it’s good to have larger pieces — larger than the chunks that are usually cut for stews — that will hold their shape better. (If you’ve got a butcher, you can ask to have the meat cut at the shop.)

If you’re serving a crowd, you can certainly double the recipe, but if the crowd is larger than a dozen, I’d suggest you divide the daube between two pots, or put it in a large roasting pan and stir it a few times while it’s in the oven.
 
Be prepared: See Storing for how to make the daube ahead — a good idea.

Ingredients
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces
  • 1 3 1/2-pound beef chuck roast, fat and any sinews removed, cut into 2- to 3-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons mild oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 yellow onions or 1 Spanish onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 6 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic head, halved horizontally, only loose papery peel removed
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise, and halved or quartered lengthwise, depending on thickness
  • 1/2 pound parsnips, trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise, and quartered lengthwise (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Cognac or other brandy
  • 1 750-ml bottle fruity red wine (I know this may sound sacrilegious, but a Central Coast Syrah is great here)
  • A bouquetgarni — 2 thyme sprigs, 2 parsley sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig, and the leaves from 1 celery stalk, tied together in a dampened piece of cheesecloth
Instructions

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Put a Dutch oven over medium heat and toss in the bacon. Cook, stirring, just until the bacon browns, then transfer to a bowl.

3. Dry the beef between sheets of paper towels. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the bacon fat in the pot and warm it over medium-high heat, then brown the beef, in batches, on all sides. Don’t crowd the pot — if you try to cook too many pieces at once, you’ll steam the meat rather than brown it — and make sure that each piece gets good color. Transfer the browned meat to the bowl with the bacon and season lightly with salt and pepper.

4. Pour off the oil in the pot (don’t remove any browned bits stuck to the bottom), add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and warm it over medium heat. Add the onions and shallots, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the onions soften, about 8 minutes. Toss in the garlic, carrots, and parsnips, if you’re using them, and give everything a few good turns to cover all the ingredients with a little oil. Pour in the brandy, turn up the heat, and stir well to loosen whatever may be clinging to the bottom of the pot. Let the brandy boil for a minute, then return the beef and bacon to the pot, pour in the wine, and toss in the bouquet garni. Once again, give everything a good stir.

5. When the wine comes to a boil, cover the pot tightly with a piece of aluminum foil and the lid. Slide the daube into the oven and allow it to braise undisturbed for 1 hour.

6. Pull the pot out of the oven, remove the lid and foil, and stir everything up once. If it looks as if the liquid is reducing by a great deal (unlikely), add just enough water to cover the ingredients. Re-cover the pot with the foil and lid, slip it back into the oven, and cook for another 1 1/2 hours (total time is 2 1/2 hours). At this point, the meat should be fork-tender — if it’s not, give it another 30 minutes or so in the oven.

7. Taste the sauce. If you’d like it a little more concentrated (usually I think it’s just fine as is), pour it into a saucepan, put it over high heat, and boil it down until it’s just the way you like it. When the sauce meets your approval, taste it for salt and pepper. (If you’re going to reduce the sauce, make certain not to salt it until it’s reduced.) Fish out the bouquet garni and garlic and, using a large serving spoon, skim off the surface fat.

8. Serve the beef and vegetables moistened with the sauce.

Serving: I like to use shallow soup plates or small cast-iron cocottes for this stew. Spoon the daube out into the little casseroles and let each guest dig into one.

Storing: Like all stews, this can be kept in the refrigerator for about 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you are preparing the daube ahead, don’t reduce the sauce, just cool the daube and chill it. Then, at serving time, lift off the fat (an easy job when the daube’s been chilled), reduce the sauce, and season it one last time.
Yield: 
Makes 6 servings

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