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Beef Bourguignon for One

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Table for One is a column by Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


“As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon,” writes Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If you’ve ever tasted Julia’s famous beef stew in red wine, then you know how good it is. If you’ve ever made Julia’s famous beef stew in red wine, then you know that it’s not exactly a walk in the park.

There’s the initial browning of bacon and beef stew meat (in stages so as not to crowd the pan), then the sautéing of vegetables, the sprinkling of flour, the eight minutes of baking, uncovered, in the oven to then brown the flour and form a crust on the meat and vegetables (don’t forget to turn the beef halfway). Next, there’s the addition of red wine and the aromatics, and of course the two-and-a-half to three hours of baking in a moderate oven. (This doesn’t even include the braised onions and sautéed mushrooms, which are themselves two sub-recipes within the main recipe, and you have to turn to separate pages of the book to cook them.) Finally, Julia asks that you strain the entire stew through a sieve into another saucepan, skim off the fat, and reduce it before saucing the meat and vegetables.

Don’t get me wrong. I am of the mindset that some famous dishes, especially those as famous and as delicious as Julia’s beef bourguignon, are absolutely worth cooking—on the weekend, for instance, when there’s time and space to dive into the project. There’s also great comfort to be found in just letting go sometimes and following a classic recipe to a T, being told what to do from start to finish. But a recipe as involved as this is certainly not for every day, not to mention it can be hard to convince yourself to cook like this when it’s just you.

Over the years, with Julia’s mantra in mind (there are more ways than one to arrive at a good beef bourguignon), I’ve scaled back her beloved recipe to fit my own life, and the very single state in which I exist. Beef bourguignon for one is possible—even more, my version is a little more streamlined. What this means is that I can still partake in the joys of a slow-cooked meal like beef stew, but without the burden of having to follow all those steps, and then finding myself eating it alone for days on end.

Not that such a predicament would be the worst thing in the world: Julia Child’s editor, Judith Jones, has a recipe for beef bourguignon in her own book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, that makes three portions: the first for eating right away, the second for turning into a beef and kidney pie, and the third for saucing a single serving of pasta. If batch cooking is your speed, then you could of course double or triple my recipe below and eat it a couple more times. But if you are, like me, someone who loves eating something new each time you cook, especially now when time is at a premium, then proceed.

The main tweak that helps me achieve an easier, smaller-scaled beef bourguignon is swapping out the tougher stew meat for something a little more luscious and tender, a little more marbled with fat and collagen: short ribs. Boneless if I can find it (which I typically can at Whole Foods, H Mart, or my local butcher). Since I’m only cooking a single portion, I don’t mind treating myself to a nicer cut like this, for one because it gets softer much faster than chuck or round.

I can still partake in the joys of a slow-cooked meal like beef stew, but without the burden of having to follow all those steps, and then finding myself eating it alone for days on end.

The taste is superior, as well: I find that short rib meat, an essential protein in Korean cooking, has a sweet, aromatic flavor that carries the dish and makes it taste special without the need for bacon. Sure, maybe some of that salty smokiness from the pork might be forsaken here, but this recipe calls for plenty of flavorful pantry ingredients (like Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and bay leaf) that bolster the savory elements of the stew. There’s no need to add flour either because as the fat and collagen from the short ribs render down into the wine, they create a thick, glossy sauce on their own. And anyway, I prefer the simpler, smoother texture of this natural “gravy” to the oftentimes heavy, claggy feeling of flour-thickened sauces.

The cooking vessel is equally important: Rather than a casserole or a cocotte, I use a small stainless-steel saucepan with a lid; the one I have is oven-safe and holds one-and-a-half quarts, which is perfect for this single portion. The point is that with a smaller amount of meat and wine, you need a smaller pot to ensure that the beef is well-covered with the liquid and doesn’t dry out in the oven. What I like, too, about the lid of a saucepan like this is that it’s not as tight-fitting as one you might find on a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven, which means the meat can braise and get tender while allowing for some of the liquid to evaporate, sauce reducing all the while.

Photo by TY MECHAM. PROP STYLIST: MEGHAN HEDGPETH. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG

Since I don’t love the mushy consistency of overcooked carrots in my stews, I take care to sauté them first over high heat, along with the mushrooms. These fried vegetables get added to the pot in the last 30 minutes of cooking, maintaining their shape and texture without watering down the stew, while still lending their own sweetness. Pearl onion fans can add them at this stage, but I prefer to leave them out completely (as I’m not the biggest fan of their texture) and instead use a large shallot and garlic for the dish’s allium notes.

You could serve this beef bourguignon with mashed potatoes if you’d like, or quick-cooking polenta, which I find can be a lot easier to throw together than spuds. White rice? Even better. Or if you want to avoid the extra step altogether (you’ve just made a stew!), crusty bread is great for sopping up that rich gravy.

Finally, for added texture and a pop of brightness, I take a cue from Chef Travis Lett (formerly of Gjelina restaurant) and prepare a crunchy gremolata of toasted panko bread crumbs, raw grated garlic, lemon zest, and chopped fresh parsley. This tangle of flavors, once sprinkled atop the short rib stew just before eating, adds a welcome fresh element that slides this slow-cooked winter stalwart into the realm of sun-lit spring.


What’s your favorite way to cook and eat this classic dish? Let us know in the comments.

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