Boeuf Bourguignon is one of those dishes you assume to be sacrosanct. In Floyd on France (now out of print), Keith Floyd insists that you follow his Bourguignon recipe "with no deviation". But I think that home cooks can recognise that this is a provincial stew, permitting any number of adaptations. The essential point is that the beef is marinated in red wine (I used an inauthentic, but roughly appropriate, Costieres de Nimes), and then simmered in the marinade.
I simmered my stew on the hob, uncovered, allowing the sauce to evaporate and concentrate. The meat was not as tender as it might have been. A better method would have been the one I suggest below.
The pig's trotter, costing 50p, lifted the dish, giving it a rich, unctuous savouriness.
Serves about eight.
1.7kg chuck steak, cubed
1 bottle red wine (Burgundy or Rhone)
3 bay leaves
Several pinches of grated nutmeg
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pig's trotter
4 more onions, sliced
250g mushrooms, sliced
30g more butter
Marinate the beef, overnight if possible, in the wine with the peppercorns, bay, nutmeg, onions and garlic.
In a large, heavy casserole, melt the 150g butter and cook the (4 more) onions in it, over a low flame, until brown. This may take 45 minutes to an hour. Do not be tempted to hurry the process, because bits of onion will catch and burn if you do. Add more butter if necessary.
Drain the beef, reserving the marinade. Pick off the marinade ingredients that stick to the meat - this is a pain. Brown the meat in batches on a ridged grill pan, over a medium heat. The wine should help the surfaces to caramelise, and the browning should take not much more than a minute on each side. Transfer the meat as it is cooked to a plate, reserving the juices that come from it.
When you are finished with the meat, deglaze the pan with the brandy, scraping at the stuck bits. Reserve this liquid too. (I found that almost all of it evaporated.)
When the onions are brown, add the meat and its juices (and the deglazing liquid, if you have any) to the casserole. Put in the pig's trotter. Pour in enough of the strained marinade to come to a level with the top of the meat. You can put the bay leaves in there as well, and salt to taste.
Cook, covered, in a low oven, until the stew has simmered very gently for about two hours and the meat is tender. (You may find that you can have the oven as low as gas mark S/130C, although if you are in a hurry to get the stew simmering you may want to start at a higher temperature.)
When the stew is nearly ready, cook the mushrooms in butter, until the liquid they throw off has evaporated. Turn off the heat and cover the pan.
Remove the meat from the casserole, perhaps by tipping it into a colander over a saucepan. Return the meat and onions to the casserole, without the trotter (which has done its job); put the casserole back, covered again, into the low oven.
Boil the sauce to reduce it by about half. Stir it back into the meat, with the mushrooms.
This stew, you may have noticed, is rich. Plain rice is the ideal accompaniment.