Beef cubes, marinated and slowly-braised in robust red wine with orange zest and Niçoise olives, make Provencal Beef Stew a perfect winter weekend treat.
It never ceases to amaze me how a bottle of wine, some aromatics, and a Dutch oven can turn the least expensive cuts of beef into the most delectable stews. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of the prime meats available at the butcher counter. Anything thick-cut, dry-aged, lightly salted, seared, and served rare makes my heart skip a beat. Still, there’s something not only comforting, but inherently satisfying about a chuck roast married with a full-bodied wine and slowly cooked to tender, buttery nirvana. It’s some of the best of winter cooking, in my humble opinion.
One of my favorite types of beef stew is the French Daube, which treats the beef to an overnight soak in wine, vinegar, and herbs. After marinating, the meat is seared and braised with the reserved marinade in a special daubière, or a Dutch oven. The stew that emerges after several hours is unbelievably tender with a deep, rounded flavor. A bit of orange zest and briny Niçoise olives give the dish a “pop” (a certain je ne sais quoi, so to speak), and balance the richness well.
As with another French favorite, Boeuf Bourguignon, the wine is a key player in this stew. Since you’re using it to both marinate and braise the meat, it’s important to use a bottle that you’ll enjoy tasting throughout the dish. You don’t have to break the bank by any means, but the, “Don’t cook with it if you wouldn’t drink it,” mantra definitely applies here. A robust Côtes du Rhône is traditional in this stew and, in my experience, has always yielded a very well-flavored, but not obnoxiously-assertive finished dish.
Provencal Beef Stew is one of those dishes that’s table-ready the day it’s made, but even better the second day after the flavors have had even more time to meld together. Many even advocate waiting to serve a Daube until days three and four to get the best flavor, but personally, I find it can be a little too intense at that point. For my tastes, Day One is delicious, Day Two divine. I mean, let’s be serious, after you’ve smelled this cooking for hours in your kitchen, who can wait another two days to eat it?! That’s some serious willpower.
Provencal Beef Stew is definitely a time investment, though not otherwise fussy to make. Most of the process is “hands-off” and the flavor payoff is huge. It’s the perfect aroma to fill the house on a cold, wintry weekend. A pot of this might just make me feel “ok” about a certain groundhog predicting six more weeks of icy, slushy winter.
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Provencal Beef Stew (Daube Provençal)
Since the wine is prominent in this dish, use a bottle that you would enjoy drinking. When serving, a glass of juicy Châteauneuf-du-Pape complements the rich stew well.
Inspired by many sources, including Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Cooking
For the Marinade:
- 1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 2 carrots (about 3/4 cup), sliced into coins
- 2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs (e.g. rosemary, thyme, parsley)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 garlic cloves (about 1-1/2 teaspoons), minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1, 750 ml bottle red wine (e.g. Côtes du Rhône)
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
To Make and Serve the Stew:
- olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
- whole sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and parsley (4-5 each), tied in a bunch or placed in a bouquet garni bag
- 4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons*
- 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained, seeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1/2 cup olives (preferably Niçoise)
- 1/2 pound white button mushrooms, quartered( or halved if large)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- chopped parsley
- buttered egg noodles or potatoes (optional), for serving
In a large bowl, combine onion, carrots, chopped herbs, bay leaves, garlic cloves, salt, pepper, ground cloves, 1 tablespoon olive oil, red wine, and red wine vinegar. Add beef cubes and toss to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 12-24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Drain and dry beef cubes, reserving the marinade. Season with kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over moderate heat in a 6-1/2-quart Dutch oven. Cook the bacon lardons until fat is rendered, but not crisp. Remove from pan and set aside. Working in batches, add beef cubes to the pan and brown on all sides (about 3 minutes per side), adding additional olive oil as needed. Transfer browned beef cubes to a bowl.
Add reserved marinade and vegetables to the Dutch oven, scraping the browned beef and bacon bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add beef cubes and bacon back to the pot with the chopped tomatoes, orange zest, and bouquet garni, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, cover Dutch oven and braise in preheated oven for one hour. Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees F. Continue braising for an additional 3 to 4 hours until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally.
While the stew is braising, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet until bubbling. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring to coat, until juices are released and mushrooms are lightly browned. Set aside.
Remove stew from oven and discard the bouquet garni and bay leaves. Skim the fat from the top of the braising liquid.** Add the mushrooms and olives, gently stirring to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle stew into warmed bowls with buttered egg noodles or potatoes, if desired, and garnish with chopped parsley.
*To cut bacon into lardons, stack slices and cut straight down into 1/4-inch wide pieces with a sharp knife.
**If you prefer a thicker "gravy," transfer meat and vegetables to a bowl and stir 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cool water into the braising liquid. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until thickened. Return meat and vegetables to the Dutch oven and proceed.