The story behind the classic French dish boeuf bourguignon

Once maligned by the French, this beef and red wine stew has arguably become the national dish. Chefs the world over have embraced the Burgundian classic — even if they don’t always agree on the recipe.

If the French have elevated cookery to an art form, boeuf bourguignon is perhaps the most prized of their national collection — beef cooked slowly in fruity red wine until so soft, sticky and deliciously savoury that to call it a mere stew feels almost insulting.

This classic of provincial French cooking was described by the great post-war British cookery writer and Francophile Elizabeth David as ‘the domain of French housewives and owner-cooks of modest restaurants rather than of professional chefs’. These days, however, the boundaries between home and haute cuisine are less strictly drawn, and you’re as likely to find it deconstructed in one of Burgundy’s many Michelin-starred restaurants as you are at the kitchen table.

Bourguignon, of course, means, ‘of Bourgogne’, or Burgundy, a region in eastern France between Lyon and Paris best known for its wine. Indeed, along with Champagne to the north, and its great rival Bordeaux to the south west, it can fairly claim to be one of the most famous production areas in the world. It’s here the traveller will pass road signs bearing names more often spotted towards the bottom end of the wine list; places like Mersault and Nuits-Saint-Georges — pretty villages lapped by a green sea of meticulously tended vines
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