The weather here in the Boston area is doing the full Christmas/Winter experience, with sleet and freezing rain followed up a couple of days later by seven inches of snow. And over the next few days the temperature is dropping day by day, heading down below zero (Fahrenheit!) on Thursday. So it’s clearly time for some cold-weather food. I’ve put up several candidates here on the blog over the years, including chicken-and-corn soup, French onion soup (a classic for these conditions), chicken pot pie, beef rouladen, chicken paprikash, and bean soup with ham. Here’s another in that same category – you’ll need beef chuck, bacon, onions (both regular cooking ones and, ideally, smaller pearl ones (which can be bought frozen), garlic, fresh mushrooms, chicken stock/broth, flour, and spices. (I should note that the recipe as given has several individual browning/cooking steps, and sort of presumes that you’re stuck inside all afternoon. The essential one is browning the meat at first; that really helps. The separate mushroom/onion stuff is definitely good, but not as crucial).
Cut two medium-size onions up coarsely (it’s good to get that part over with!) After you’ve dealt with those (put them to one side for now), you’ll need about 3 pounds of beef chuck (1.5 kilograms), cut down into pieces between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm, more towards the former). Season these with salt and black pepper, and let them stand while you fry about a quarter-pound (c. 115 grams) of bacon in a large pot, with a cover, that can be heated in an oven (a cast-iron “Dutch oven” is ideal, but enameled cookware or any such covered pot that can be baked is fine). Take out the bacon when browned and pour off about half the bacon drippings, reserving those until later. Once the bacon has cooled down, break or chop it up into smaller pieces.
In the remaining bacon fat, brown the pieces of meat over medium to high heat, with occasional stirring. You’ll want to break this process up into two or three batches, because otherwise the pot will be too crowded, and the meat will mostly steam instead of browning. This should just be a few minutes per batch – enough to brown the pieces but not cook them through. Take the meat out as it’s done and put it to one side. At this point, you’ll want to heat the oven to 250F (120C) – the stew will be going in there for a while.
While that’s going on, add the onions to the pot and cook them over medium heat until they’re soft and just beginning to brown. (I’m not going to specify a time for that, but anyone with any kitchen experience knows that recipe writers always seem to lie about how long it takes. You’re not going for caramelized onions here, which is where the most egregious falsehoods show up, although they should pick up some color). Now add three cloves of garlic, minced or pushed through a garlic press, and cook this for another minute or so. (Note: I have no problem with garlic presses myself, although I know people who do, and some professional cooks rail agains them. I have not seen a test where someone has tried a blind trial between garlic-press garlic and finely hand-minced garlic, and I would especially bet against there being any difference at all when cooked in a stew like this one)! Then stir in 3 tablespoons (25 to 30 grams) of flour and continue to cook, with stirring, for several minutes to let the mixture develop more color.
At this point, add 3 cups (about 700 mL) of chicken broth or homemade chicken stock. (Note: if you like you can take this recipe in more of a bouef bourguignon direction by adding half chicken stock and half red wine at this point – up to you!) Scrape around the bottom of the pan to get anything that might have stuck back up in to the mixture. Add a couple of bay leaves and about a teaspoon of dried thyme (about 4.5 grams). Add the beef and the bacon back to this mixture, cover the pot, and put it in the oven for two hours. (Note: you can also simmer this on low heat on the stovetop, covered, if you wish – you will need to stir it gently every so often if you’re cooking it this way).
While this is going on, you can deal with the pearl onions and mushrooms. You’ll need to cut one pound (450 grams or so) of mushrooms into large pieces, quartered or halved (your choice of mushroom type, although the common white or brown button ones are fine). As for the pearl onions, I strongly recommend buying the frozen bagged ones, because peeling those things is a job for machines and not for human beings. Take one cup of the onions (about 140g – I just went and weighed that out myself), and heat them to defrost and cook them a bit (a microwave is handy for this step, but you can do this in a covered pan with a little water as well). Once you have those ready, and have poured off any accumulated water, brown them in a pan over medium-to-high heat in the some the remaining bacon drippings. Take those out of the pan and then add the rest of the bacon drippings (I told you this was cold-weather food) and cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat until they’re a bit browned. Add these to the reserved mushrooms, and add all of these to the stew mixture once you’ve hit the two-hour mark or the meat is starting to get tender. Cook all this for another half hour, and you’re done!