Red wine, smoky bacon, pearl onions, and a secret ingredient give this classic French dish its irresistible richness. A special favorite in cool weather, it’s delicious anytime.
Beef Bourguignon, Bidwell Street Bistro, Folsom, Calif.
A signature beef bourguignon practically guaranteed the success of Bidwell Street Bistro in Folsom, Calif. (1004 E. Bidwell St., 916-984-7500, bidwellstreetbistro.com). Thirteen years ago, just before the restaurant opened, executive chef Wendi Mentink participated in the Taste of Folsom festival, preparing an aromatic stew of beef, bacon, and pearl onions simmered gently in red wine. Attendees were so smitten by its flavors that they vowed to show up the day the bistro opened its doors.
Nowadays the classic Burgundian dish is a seasonal staple at this thriving restaurant done up with burnished gold mirrors and wrought iron accents. Bidwell’s version, though, boasts an unorthodox ingredient, one that Francophiles might deem sacrilegious were it not for the fact that Mentink learned the trick from a French culinary consultant. The secret seasoning? Shhh. It’s ketchup.
Mentink thought it sounded odd until she tried it. “Most people add a bit of tomato paste,” she says. “But ketchup is better. The sugar in the ketchup counterbalances the acidity of the red wine and gives the sauce just the right richness.”
The chef likes to serve the beef with braised carrots and buttered spaghetti or fettuccine, although it pairs just as well with garlic bread or roasted or mashed potatoes. “It’s the ultimate French comfort food,” Mentink says. Her recipe calls for marinating the meat overnight. You can skip that step if you’re in a hurry, she says, but the flavorful results warrant planning ahead.
Adapted with permission from the recipe by Wendi Mentink of Bidwell Street Bistro
For the beef and marinade:
2½ pounds boneless chuck short ribs
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon whole cloves
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 750-ml bottle good quality red wine, plus more as needed
For the rest of the dish:
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup ketchup
5 tablespoons canola oil, plus more as needed
2 cups water, plus more as needed
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed, at room temperature
1 pound white button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and cut into ¼-inch slices
½ pound thick-cut bacon
1 10-ounce bag pearl onions or ⅔ pound loose pearl onions, peeled
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
To marinate the beef:
Cut the beef into 1-inch cubes and place them in a 3-quart, nonreactive container. Add the remaining marinade ingredients and mix well. Add more wine, if necessary; you want the beef to be almost completely submerged in the wine. Refrigerate overnight.
To cook the beef:
1. Place a colander over a mixing bowl and pour the marinade and meat into it. Shake the colander to drain as much marinade as possible. Reserve the liquid and separate the beef from the vegetables, placing the beef on a cookie sheet. Season the beef with salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
2. Place a 3-quart Dutch oven or large pot near the stove and put the ketchup into it. Place 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. Place some of the beef into the pan in a single layer with plenty of room between the cubes. Brown the beef on all sides. When that batch is browned, transfer the pieces to the Dutch oven, leaving any fat in the pan. Repeat this process with a second batch of beef, adding oil if necessary.
3. Add about ½ cup of the marinade to the sauté pan and bring it to a boil. Using a whisk, scrape all the brown bits up from the bottom of the pan, then transfer the liquid to the Dutch oven. Continue with this method—browning the beef in two batches, transferring it to the Dutch oven, and deglazing the pan with the marinade—until you've browned all the beef.
4. Add the vegetables from the marinade to the same sauté pan, and sauté on medium-high heat until lightly browned. Transfer the vegetables to the Dutch oven along with any remaining marinade and 2 cups or more of water so the ingredients are covered by at least 2 inches of liquid. On high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to simmer.
5. Using a ladle, skim off and discard any impurities from the surface of the liquid. Cook for 2 to 2½ hours, or until the beef is tender enough to shred with a fork.
To cook the rest of the dish:
1. While the beef cooks, place 2 tablespoons of the canola oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter into a large sauté pan over high heat. When the butter sizzles and begins to brown, add the sliced mushrooms, stirring often, until they’re tender and any liquid has evaporated. Season the mushrooms liberally with salt and pepper and set them aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and arrange the bacon slices on it. Place the bacon in the oven and cook for 14 to 18 minutes until lightly crisp. Allow the bacon to cool, then cut it into ½-inch pieces. Add the bacon to the reserved mushrooms.
3. In a medium skillet, place the peeled onions, ½ cup of water, 1 tablespoon of the butter, and the tablespoon of sugar. On high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook until the liquid thickens and starts to caramelize. Stir the onions and add a couple of pinches of salt. Set the onions aside to cool, then add them to the mushrooms and bacon.
4. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter with the 6 tablespoons of flour, kneading with your fingers to form a paste. Set the mixture aside.
5. When the beef is fully cooked, place a colander over another large pot and pour the beef, vegetables, and liquid into it. Set the strained cooking liquid aside. Transfer the beef and vegetables to a cookie sheet to cool slightly, then discard the vegetables. Rinse the Dutch oven, then add back the strained liquid and bring it to a boil. Add the butter-flour mixture a little at a time, whisking frequently, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Add the cooked beef and the mixture of pearl onions, mushrooms, and bacon to the Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
7. Ladle the bourguignon over buttered noodles arranged on individual serving plates.
Photography by David H. Collier 
This article was first published in February 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.