Comfort in the kitchen: Dijon Beef Stew with Brandy and Shallots

by Terry B on September 20, 2017

Beef, brandy, two kinds of mustard, generous aromatics, carrots and mushrooms braise into a robust, soothing stew. Recipe below.

Dijon Beef Stew with Shallots

Comfort food. Are there two more comforting words? They conjure up very different things for all of us, I’m sure, but for me, they often look/smell/taste like this meaty, stew-y dish. But comfort isn’t just in the food—it’s in the making of food, time spent in the kitchen.

Our days, harried or otherwise, generally start in the kitchen. Weekdays, I’m usually the first one up. My first official act, before firing up the kettle for tea and coffee, before feeding the cats and emptying the dishwasher, is to get some music going. In the morning, it is invariably classical. Sometimes, it’s our local radio station, WFMT, but more often than not, it’s WQXR, streamed from New York.

Being in the kitchen in the morning with classical music playing is my reset button. However sleep deprived I am, whatever work or daily life challenge is on my mind, it all lightens up, and the day feels right.

In the evenings, cooking dinner or, later, cleaning up the wreckage, the music is more likely jazz. Sometimes streamed from stations in Chicago, Newark or Detroit, but more often, a playlist on my phone. The effect is the same, a calming righting of course. The comfort is not just in the music, not just in the cooking or even the mundane cleaning. It is all of it together.

This week’s recipe, definite comfort food, is based on something I saw in the New York Times in the days leading up to this year’s anniversary of 9/11. The recipe had first appeared September 19, 2001, just days after the horrific attacks. Both the recipe and the original article, “When the Path to Serenity Wends Past the Stove,” were created by Regina Schrambling. In her piece, Ms. Schrambling eloquently describes the comfort of making food. “The food is not really the thing. It’s the making of it that gets you through a bad time,” she says.

The dish she made, Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew, is at once robust and soothing. And making it, or my own version of it, was indeed comforting. I added a few things—some herbs and some garlic—and reduced the amount of mustard a little. I also swapped brandy for cognac—the former is in our liquor cabinet, the latter is not. And finally, I added another comfort food to the mix: egg noodles.

Dijon Beef Stew with Brandy and Shallots
Serves 4 to 5 generously

4 strips bacon
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise
olive oil, as needed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
flour for dredging
1-1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1/2 cup brandy (nothing fancy)
2 cups unsalted or low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard (I used a Dijon whole grain)
2 bay leaves
4 to 5 large carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks on the diagonal
1/2 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1/4 cup dry red wine

12 ounces dried egg noodles

Cook the bacon over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large, deep sauté pan until just crisp. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and reserve. (You can eat the bacon or crumble it into the stew at the end—or some combination thereof.) Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and shallots to the pan, along with some butter if the bacon doesn’t render enough fat. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently to avoid browning, until softened, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Transfer onion shallot mixture to a bowl.

While onion is cooking, season beef generously with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Brown in pan in batches to avoid overcrowding pan, adding butter (or oil, if you lose your nerve), as needed, about 7 minutes per batch. Transfer beef to bowl as it is cooked.

Add yet more butter (or oil), if needed, to pan and sprinkle in the tarragon. When it goes fragrant on you, in about 45 seconds, pour in the brandy. Scrape up the browned bits, then add the broth and whisk in the mustards. Return the onion shallot mix and the beef to the pan, stirring to combine, and bring to a boil. Tuck in the bay leaves, reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add carrots to pan and cook, covered, for another hour. Definitely continue to stir—it will thicken a surprising amount from the bottom (add a little water, if needed). Near the end of this second hour, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pan (no oil this time) and cook the mushrooms until browned and tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir mushrooms and red wine into stew and cook for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile cook egg noodles according to package instructions, timing them to finish when the stew does. Divide noodles among shallow bowls, top with stew and serve.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

karin bugge September 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm

That’s a lovely story. This week, not far off your path, I’m making Japanese curry with beef. But next cold snap, it will be this.

Dani H September 20, 2017 at 8:55 pm

This sounds heavenly. I can remember as a child when my father would make thick, wide, chewy egg noodles which would cover the kitchen, even hanging over the backs of the chairs. My mother would make beef stew and chicken stew to serve on the noodles. Definitely comfort food for me. Thanks for the memories and the enticing recipe!

Terry B September 25, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Thanks, Karin. Would love to hear about your curry.

What a great story, Dani! I can just see the noodles draped everywhere.

Ronnie Ann October 1, 2017 at 5:58 pm

Wide egg noodles also bring warm memories from my childhood, although we never had them hanging from furniture. What a great story, Dani. Going to try this soon. OK. I might lazy it up a bit — you know me, Terry. But my cognac awaits. Nice comfort food!

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