While Maggie and I were travelling in Europe earlier this year, I ate four traditional dishes of braised beef: boeuf bourguignon (French), beef goulash (Hungarian), svickova omacka (Czech) and tafelspitz (Austrian).
Since returning to our own kitchen, we have cooked three of the dishes, with varying degrees of success. We plan to get to the fourth – the tafelspitz – in the next month or so.
In this post, I will tell you about these experiences and share a couple of recipes that we have adapted from various sources. (I appreciate this won’t appeal right now to people living north of the Tropic of Capricorn but here, 38 degrees south of the equator, it is mid-winter and our menu is dominated by braises, roasts and winter soups, eg we have made veal osso bucco, coq au vin and borscht in the last week.)
I enjoyed a serve of Boeuf Bourguignon as my main course when we dined at Chez Jeannette in the village of Fixin, at the northern end of the Cote d’Or. It was tasty enough and very tender but, for me, the most interesting feature was the jus; it was thin and translucent but still full of flavour. In our renditions of this famous dish, the sauce has been like a gravy – thick and cloudy.
A couple of weeks ago, as winter brought cold winds to our door, we cooked the dish for the first time since last winter. We made two changes to the recipe we had been using. Gravy beef replaced blade steak – it’s a textural thing – and we didn’t dust the pieces of beef with flour before browning them. As you might be able to see from the photo of my rather generous serve, the jus we produced had something in common with the one at Chez Jeannette.
We could have gone a step further – straining the vegetables out of the sauce – but we prefer to eat them as part of the meal. I presume that Chez Jeannette’s chef cooked the beef without adding some of the usual vegetables and then included them as separate items on the plate.
So, here is our recipe, a modified version of one we found on an American website. Accompanied by some fresh green beans and either a potato-and-cauliflower mash or some gently-boiled chunks of kipfler potato, this makes a satisfying mid-winter meal.
1 kg gravy beef, cut into pieces about 5cm
vegetable oil and butter
10-15 French (brown) shallots, peeled
250g small mushrooms, halved
100g kaiserfleisch, coarsely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, diced
3 tsp tomato paste
2 tsp Dijon mustard
500ml dry red wine
small stick of celery )
3-4 parsley stalks ) tie together
3-4 sprigs of thyme ) to make a
2 bay leaves ) bouquet garni
2 cloves )
salt and pepper
- Heat 1 tbsp oil and 20g butter in a wide, heavy-based, oven-proof pan over moderate heat, and sauté shallots until golden. Remove shallots. (As you can see in the photos, we used our casserole dish and a non-stick pan to save time in steps 1 to 6.)
- Brown beef in three or four batches (to prevent crowding), adding more oil and butter as necessary. Transfer beef to a large bowl.
- Add brandy to the pan and boil for a couple of minutes, scraping off any bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour over beef.
- Heat 20g butter in the pan and sauté the mushrooms until glossy and tender; partly cover with a lid to retain flavour and moisture. Remove mushrooms from pan.
- Preheat oven to 140C.
- Melt 20g butter in pan and sauté bacon for two minutes. Add chopped onions, garlic and carrots and sauté, stirring until the onion is pale golden, about five minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring for one minute. Add meat, brandy and juices, mustard, wine and bouquet garni, bring to a simmer and cover with lid.
- Transfer pan to oven and cook until meat is tender (about two hours, possibly longer, depending on tenderness of beef). Add shallots and mushrooms after 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning after one hour.
When Maggie and I visited Salzburg while travelling in Central Europe, I enjoyed a very good plate of beef goulash at the K&K restaurant. This recipe, much modified from the original, produces a dish of comparable quality and is set to become one of our winter staples. Most goulash recipes include caraway seeds; we prefer to use cayenne pepper.
1-2 tbsp olive oil
500g gravy beef (weight after meat is trimmed), cut into 3cm pieces
salt and pepper
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
¼ cup each of chicken stock and beef stock
2-3 tsp sweet paprika
1 cup tomato passata
one or two generous pinches of cayenne pepper, to taste
300g potato suitable for mashing, eg Dutch Cream
½ cup self-raising flour
50ml pecorino or parmesan
3 tsp chopped parsley
- Heat a little oil in a heavy-based, non-stick pan over moderate heat, and brown the beef in two or three batches. Remove beef from pan and season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 150C (less if your oven cooks hot).
- Add onion, garlic and sufficient olive oil to the pan and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add carrot and sauté for a further 4 minutes. Transfer to an oven-proof baking dish. Add stock to pan, deglaze and remove pan from heat.
- Heat onion mix, add paprika and stir for 1 minute. Add browned meat, stock and passata and bring to the boil. Transfer to oven and cook for 1½ to 1¾ hours, stirring occasionally, until the beef is just tender. Adjust flavour with cayenne pepper after one hour of cooking. Remove goulash from the oven and uncover the dish so it can cool a little.
- As the beef is nearing its completion, peel the potato, cut into chunks and cover with plenty of salted, cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for about 12 minutes or until just tender.
- Drain the potato, return to the pan, add the butter then, when it has melted, add milk and mash until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl, add the flour, cheese and parsley and stir to combine well.
- Increase oven temperature to 170C and place an oven rack one level above mid-point.
- Divide the beef and its sauce evenly between 4 ramekins (ours are 10cm in diameter and about 7cm high. Use a small dessert spoon to add two or three dollops of the dumpling mix to each ramekin, spray with cooking oil and bake for about 20 minutes or until the dumplings are golden.
I had never heard of this Czech dish until Maggie and I dined in the bar and cafe area of Hotel Belle Epoque when we were in Prague. It was quite delicious, especially the sauce, enough to result in a conversation with the cafe manager about how it is made.
Soon after we came home, I used Google to find some recipes for svickova omacka. I downloaded the one that most appealed to me and we had a go at it. It was moderately successful, although the sauce was well short of what I was served in Prague. We have worked out what we would do differently next time; that will be next year and if we manage to cook something blog-worthy, I will share the details.