If ever there has been a winter that calls for a hearty, satisfying beef stew, this is the one. And there's no beef stew that's better than the classic French version of boeuf a la Bourguignonne, cooked with a surfeit of red wine.

Once you have made it a few times, you won't even be referring to a recipe.

Success is all about ingredients and methods:

  • Choose meat with some fat, such as beef shoulder or chuck.
  • Brown it without crowding the pan. If you crowd it, the meat will steam instead of brown.
  • Use decent wine.
  • Cook long and slow; you don't want the stew to boil, just simmer.
  • Flavor the stew with a bouquet garni, or herb bundle (though Julia Child's original recipe calls only for crumbled thyme and bay leaf): Tuck a few sprigs of thyme, a few stems of parsley, a bit of celery leaf if you like it, and maybe 2 or 3 whole cloves inside a bay leaf or two. The bay leaf keeps them all together. Wind twine around the small package and tie tightly. (The herbs also may be tied into cheesecloth, but I love making these tidy little herb bundles.)
  • Recently, I've watched some of Child's old videos. Child was never afraid, so take a cue from her. She didn't always measure, and you don't have to, either. Remember, if something goes wrong, there is usually a way to rescue it. Bon appétit!

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    BOEUF A LA BOURGUIGNONNE WITHOUT FEAR

    6-ounce chunk of bacon, cut into sticks about 1/4 inch thick and 11/2 inches long

    Olive oil, as needed

    3 pounds beef for stew, such as

    shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes

    2 small carrots, cut into chunks

    1 onion, sliced

    Salt and pepper, to taste

    2 tablespoons flour

    3 cups red wine such as Burgundy, Bordeaux or Chianti

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    2 cups beef stock, or more as needed

    2 garlic cloves, mashed

    Bouquet garni (see above) containing at least thyme, parsley and bay leaf

    24 small white onions, braised in beef stock (see note)

    1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered and sauteed in butter

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    Buttered potatoes or noodles, for

    serving

    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In heavy, 3-quart casserole with a tightfitting lid, saute bacon in small amount of olive oil over medium heat until browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon to a paper towel to drain.

    2. Pat chunks of beef dry and brown in fat, a few pieces at a time. Don't crowd. Add a little olive oil, as needed. As meat is browned, remove to a dish. When all is browned, use the same fat to brown the carrot and onion. Add bacon and beef to casserole and sprinkle all with about 1 teaspoon salt, a little pepper and flour. Toss. Cook a few minutes longer over low to medium heat to brown the flour.

    3. Stir in wine and enough stock to just cover meat. Add garlic and bouquet garni and bring to a simmer on top of stove. Cover and transfer to oven. Check to see that meat is simmering; if it is not, turn up the oven temperature a little until it is. Simmer slowly for 21/2 hours, or until meat can easily be pierced with a fork.

    4. Fish out bouquet garni. If sauce is too thin, strain it into a saucepan, return the sauce to the casserole and cook it down until it is, as Child says, "thick enough to coat a spoon lightly." If the sauce is too thick, add a little stock or wine. Taste for seasoning and correct. Reheat meat, vegetables and sauce.

    5. Add cooked onions and mushrooms, and stir gently to distribute them. Cover and simmer a few minutes. Serve over buttered potatoes or noodles. Makes 6 servings.

    NOTE Blanch small white onions in boiling water for a minute or two, then cut a slit at stem end and slip skins off. Brown lightly in olive oil, then add 1/2 cup beef stock, cover, lower heat and braise about 30 minutes, checking to be sure they don't get dry.