Alice Water's Beef Stew

Only foodies will understand this--I had to go see the movie "Julie & Julia" again, just to hear the lines: "But what do you like to do?" ---"Eat!"; and "I think about food all day and dream about it at night!". Why?--it's a validation! If someone as world-renown and well-respected as Julia Child was food-obsessed, then I'm not a horrible person for caring so much about what I eat. Besides, it's a wonder to watch Meryl Streep--definitely the finest actress of our time--embody her character. The popularity of the film has renewed interest in Julia Child's first cookbook--over a million people bought "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking" last month. I imagine most of them immediately turned to page 315 to look for the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe. (For those who haven't seen "Julie & Julia", the character played by Amy Adams is in raptures over this recipe.)

Julia Child enjoyed great success in her lifetime with three decades on TV, the publication of seventeen books, plus seeing her kitchen enshrined in the Smithsonian (click here for a Flash presentation). Several interesting articles about the spike in interest in her have been printed in the New York Times, including "After 48 Years, Julia Child Has a Big Best Seller, Butter and All" by Stephanie Clifford, who points out that modern cooks may have trouble with the amount of butter and bacon fat in many of the recipes. I think this is especially true in California where we have been influenced by another powerful and innovative woman: Alice Waters, who was one of the originators of "California cuisine" with her emphasis on sustainably farmed, organic, seasonal produce. When "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking" was published, science hadn't established the correlation of saturated fat to heart disease nor discovered the benefits of the micro-nutrients in fruits and vegetables. Today, we want to maintain our health by limiting the saturated fat in our menus. This doesn't prevent Julia Child's cookbooks from having a deservedly prominent place in our cookbook shelf--since every cook needs to know how to make the basic French sauces and there are many wonderful and surprising recipes, like Epinards en Surprise (Spinach Hidden under a Giant Crepe) or Galettes au Camembert (Camembert Biscuits) that spark innovation.

Another criticism that has been brought up by other writers about her recipes is that many require extensive preparation, which in today's society of working moms and dads, is not always possible. (I would like to point out, in her defense, that the classic French recipes she adapted were even more labor intensive.) But for those who would like to try a shortcut, here's a recipe for beef stew, published in the LA Times, adapted from Alice Water's book "The Art Of Simple Food". It has the same basic ingredients as Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon, slowly cooks for the same length of time, but requires less prep. I'd be curious to hear a taste review from any reader who tries this recipe.
Note: Adapted from Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food." The stew can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven. LA Times online 10/10/07
(click here to read about Chez Panisse Cafe and a recipe for Halibut Tartare or here for recipe for Avocado, Grapefruit and Fennel Salad)
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2 -inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oil
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 whole cloves
2 onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs savory
2 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns
3 tablespoons brandy
1 3/4 cups red wine
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
8 cloves coarsely chopped garlic and 2 cloves finely chopped garlic, divided
1 thin strip orange zest
2 cups beef broth (or chicken broth)
1/2 cup small black olives, such as nicoise or small kalamata
1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
1. Season the beef with generous amounts of salt and pepper at least 1 hour, or up to a day, before preparing. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the bacon and cook until it is lightly brown but not crisp. Remove the bacon and save it for another use. Add the meat to the pan, browning well on all sides, in as many batches as necessary. As the meat is browned, transfer it with a slotted spoon to a heavy pot or braising dish.
3. When all of the meat is browned, pour off most of the fat and lower the heat to medium. Stick the cloves in one of the onion quarters and add the onions to the heated saute pan along with the carrots. Tie a bouquet garni of thyme, savory, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in a small cheesecloth bundle (a tea ball works well too), and add it to the vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are lightly browned, then remove the pan from heat and add the vegetables to the beef in the stew pot. If using the oven, heat it to 325 degrees.
4. To the saute pan in which the vegetables were cooked, add the brandy and red wine. Place the pan over high heat and cook until the wine is reduced by about two-thirds, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the reduced wine over the beef and vegetables.
5. Gently stir in the tomatoes, coarsely-chopped garlic, orange zest, broth and 1 teaspoon salt. Check the level of the liquid; it should be at least three-quarters of the way up the cubes of beef. Add more broth if needed.
6. Cover the pot tightly and cook at a bare simmer on the stovetop or in the oven for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat is almost tender. Check the stew occasionally to make sure that it is not boiling (lower the heat if necessary) and that there is enough liquid. When the meat is almost tender, add the olives for the final 30 minutes.
7. When the meat is tender, turn off the heat and let the stew settle for a few minutes. Skim off the fat. Discard the bouquet garni. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Stir in the finely chopped garlic cloves. Serve with the chopped parsley sprinkled over. Serves 6. Wine pairing: the 2004 Brian Carter Cellars Solesce.
Each serving: 432 calories; 46 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 15 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 87 mg. cholesterol; 840 mg. sodium.


  1. Could you cook this in a slow cooker instead of on the stove top or in the oven?

  2. I think a slow cooker sounds like a great idea! But, you need to still brown the meat in a heavy bottomed pot first as the slow cooker won't get hot enough for this. I love to make stew in a slow cooker on medium that cooks all day--especially on a cold day one loves to come home to a nice, full flavored stew! You'll have to test the cooking time--please report back with your findings! thanks, Tama

  3. Have made this recipe many times from Waters's book. Always fantastic. Can keep it very lightly bubbling for a very long time, and it re-heats wonderfully. We use her variation with dried mushrooms and tomato paste in lieu of fresh tomatoes and orange. Quality of the beef seems to make the most difference.


Thank you for your feedback...