I can tell the story of my life with this dish. It was the first dinner I ever cooked for my family. I was eleven and used the recipe from Mom's Joy of Cooking. We all loved stews and braised meats, so I made it many times. Then Julia's version came along and mine took on new dimensions. Eating it in France brought still more depth. It is surely one of my favorite dishes to eat or to serve to loved ones, and my traditional birthday dinner. This is an essential dish to have in your repertoire because, besides being heart-warming and delicious, it benefits from being prepared in advance and reheated; AND leftovers freeze well. What’s more, you may be surprised to learn that almost exactly the same recipe, when prepared with chicken instead of beef, becomes the world-famous (and equally tasty) Coq au Vin! —ChefJune
In a large mixing bowl, combine beef cubes with the wine, 3 tablespoons Cognac, the bouquet garni, a few peppercorns and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Set aside to marinate for at least 2 hours, but not overnight.
Peel and chop the onions and carrots. Remove rind from the bacon and cut the meat into 1-inch pieces. Blanch bacon in boiling water for several seconds. Drain and pat dry.
Remove beef from the marinade with a slotted spoon and pat dry. (If the meat is not dry, it will not brown.) Reserve the marinade.
Heat a Dutch oven or a large, deep-sided sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid and film it with oil. Sauté the bacon until it is lightly browned. Remove bacon from the pan and set aside to drain on paper towels. Leave any bacon fat in the pan
Add the remaining vegetable oil to the pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in it, and when it is very hot add the beef to the pan (in 2 batches, if necessary) and sear on all sides. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the beef from the pan.
Add the chopped onions and carrots to the pan and sauté the mixture until onions become translucent. Return the beef and bacon to the pan. Add the marinade and bouquet garni to the pan and bring everything to a boil. Add unpeeled but lightly crushed garlic. Cover and simmer over low heat until beef is tender -- about 2 1/2 hours -- and the sauce is a rich, dark brown.
Wipe the mushroom caps with a piece of paper towel. Peel the pearl onions, and cut an "x" in the root end of each with a small, sharp knife. Melt the remaining butter in another skillet. Add the onions and mushrooms and sauté quickly over medium high heat without browning. Set aside.
When the beef has finished cooking, remove it and the bacon from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon. Strain the liquid through a sieve or strainer. Press to get all the juices out of the vegetables you will be discarding. Return the sauce to the pan with the beef and bacon. (If the sauce seems too thin, mix 2 teaspoon potato starch with 1/4 cup of the cool sauce before returning to the pan.) Add the mushrooms, pearl onions and the remaining Cognac. Warm the stew until it is completely heated through.
Wine Tip: I like to drink a Corton or Pommard (Burgundy, of course!) with this very Burgundian stew -- or for an American choice, I’d pick Vision Cellars’ Chileno Pinot Noir from Marin County.
Teacher’s Tips: 1. Marinating the meat adds immeasurably to the flavor and tenderness of the stew, but if you leave the meat in the marinade too long, it will lose its basic flavor. In this case, more is not always better.
2. Drain the meat thoroughly and reserve the marinade. It is important to note that the meat will not brown if you don’t dry it before adding to the hot fat, so after you drain it, place all the pieces in a single layer on a pad of paper towels to absorb excess moisture, and pat the pieces dry.
Cook the pearl onions and mushrooms separately to retain their distinctive flavors and textures. If you can’t find pearl onions, get the smallest white onions you can find, and cut them in quarters. Canned mushroom caps can be substituted in a pinch, if you drain and dry them well. BTW: if you don’t like mushrooms, feel free to omit them. And don't forget -- all stews are better if you make them a day or two ahead.