Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Boeuf Bourguignon and The Wonderbag

Julia Child described it as "certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man."

The movie Julie and Julia resurrected this "peasant" dish into something of a fashion statement - if you hadn't heard of Boeuf Bourgignon; if you hadn't made it; if you hadn't eaten it - where had you been??

Well maybe I had been living under a rock because although I had eaten this fabulously rich and powerfully robust dish on numerous occasions - I hadn't made it, ever! That is, until this weekend...

When winter comes a-calling, my summer mind disappears and is replaced by a very one-track one that only wants comfort food! Slow cooked, delicious smelling, belly warming, toe curling yumminess - eaten close to a fireplace, preferably, while savouring a glass of red wine.

Boeuf Bourgignon sums up winter in one dish.

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a company called Natural Balance to review their product The Wonderbag, which is a heat retention/insulation cooker that looks like a hollowed out bean bag with a separate bean bag lid and a draw string.

When I first received my Wonderbag, I wondered how this bean bag, with its expanded polystyrene (EPS) balls, would retain enough heat to cook the food in the pot. I decided to put the bag to the test, with what was going to be the best stew I had ever made. EVER!!

Boy, was I impressed, The Wonderbag really works, hence the name - it is a wonder!

All that is needed to be done is to bring the pot of food to the boil, a stew requires about 30 minutes on the stove or in the oven, and then to transfer the pot to the Wonderbag; sealing in everything tightly, so that the heat does not escape, until the dish is ready to be eaten. (Do not open the bag until the food is cooked as the Wonderbag will not be able to do its job correctly.)

Not only does this amazing product save electricity, which is a huge benefit during winter in South Africa, (not forgetting the ever escalating electricity prices), but each one is manufactured by a previously unemployed skilled seamstress living in the Riebeek Valley. Every Wonderbag gives someone an income to feed and educate a family. It also saves energy, saves money and reduces the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Wonderbag is registered with the UNFCCC (United Nations Climate Change) as a CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) and is in a carbon trading relationship with Nedbank.

By using a Wonderbag two to three times a week you can save:

•1.6 litres of paraffin a week

•13kWh of electricity a week

•500 kg of carbon per year

To find out more about this product, please visit their websites: Natural Balance and Goedgedacht.

Saturday seemed like the perfect day to make my Boeuf Bourgignon - I wanted to cook is slowly for many, many hours so that the meat would fall apart and the gravy would be intensely flavoursome.

*WARNING* Do not attempt to make this if you are planning on entertaining the same night - the best bet would be to make it the night before serving.

The recipe I used is from Simply Recipes and is based on Julia Child's recipe.

Boeuf Bourguignon
(Serves 6 to 8)


  • 170g bacon (I used 2 deboned pork rashers)
  • 2 - 3 Tbsp olive oil (if required)
  • 1.8kgs beef cubes (I used goulash), patted dry with paper towels
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups sliced onions
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 bottle of red wine (pinot noir, shiraz)*
  • 2 cups beef stock (I used Nomu)
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or tanned (I used 2 Tbsp tomato paste)
  • 1 medium bouquet garni: 8 parsley sprigs, 1 large bay leaf, 1 tsp dried thyme, 2 whole cloves and 3 large lightly crushed cloves of garlic (I used 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, bay leaves, cloves and lightly crushed garlic all placed in separately)
  •  Beurre manié: 3 Tbsp flour blended to a paste with 2 Tbsp butter (I used corn starch and you may also use dairy free margarine such as Blossom instead of the butter)
  • 24 pearl onions
  • Chicken stock or water
  • Butter/ margarine
  • 680g button or porcini mushrooms
*Contains yeast


  1. Blanch the bacon to remove its smoky taste. Drop bacon slices into 2 litres of cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer 6 to 8 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and dry on paper towels.
  2. Remove the rind from the rashers and cut the rest into cubes. In a large frying pan, sauté the rind and cubes of bacon/ rasher to brown slightly (I didn't use oil here, I found the rashers had enough fat). Set aside.
  3. Brown the chunks of beef on all sides in the bacon fat and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and put them into a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or casserole dish. Add the bacon to the beef.
  4. Remove all but a little fat from the frying pan, add the sliced vegetables and brown them, and add to the meat.
  5. Deglaze the pan with wine (Here I heated the entire bottle of wine in the pan to burn off most of the alcohol, after deglazing), pouring it into the casserole along with enough stock to almost cover the meat. Stir in the tomatoes and add the herb bouquet.
  6. Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer slowly on the lowest heat possible, either on the stove or in a preheated 160°C oven, until the meat is tender, about 1 to 2 hours. (Here I put the casserole dish in the oven on about 180°C for half an hour and then transferred it to my Wonderbag to cook over night +/- 8 hours)
  7. While the stew is cooking (or the next day), prepare the onions. Blanch the onions in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Slice the end tips off of the onions, peel the onions and score the root end with 1/4 cm cuts. Sauté onions in a single layer in a tablespoon or two of butter until lightly browned. Add chicken stock or water half way up the sides of the onions. Add a teaspoon of sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 minutes or until tender. The onions should absorb most of the water. If there is water remaining after cooking, drain the excess. Set aside.
  8. Prepare the mushrooms a few minutes before serving the stew. Sauté quartered mushrooms in a few tablespoons of butter and olive oil until browned and cooked through.
  9. When the stew meat has cooked sufficiently, remove all solids from the sauce (except the beef) by draining through a colander set over a saucepan. Return the beef to the casserole. Press juices out of the residue into the cooking liquid, then remove any visible fat and boil down the liquid to 3 cups. Off heat, whisk in the beurre manié, then simmer for 2 minutes as the sauce thickens lightly. Correct seasoning and pour over the meat, folding in the onions and mushrooms. To serve, bring to a simmer, basting meat and vegetables with the sauce for several minutes until hot throughout.
  10. Traditionally served with boiled baby potatoes, but can be served with rice or mash too
Finally after about 18 hours of preparation and cooking I was able to taste the fruits of my labour. Trumpets began to sound and violins began to play as I slowly lifted the spoon to my mouth, breathing in the heady aromas, and took my first mouthful of the velvety, intoxicating gravy and bit into a tender piece of meat (my mouth is watering as I write this).

Now, I see what the fuss is all about, Julia!! I am officially a self-cook Boeuf Bourguignon fan... for life.

I will be trying out a different recipe soon - I can't seem to get enough and want everyone to experience this unique dish for themselves. It is well worth the effort!!

Please cook this for the special people in your life; I can guarantee that they will love you forever :)


  1. This is so clever of you! I absolutely love this post :)

  2. Thanks Linda, as always, for the lovely comment :) You make my day!

  3. Thanks Jess, I am so glad you like it :)