January 2012 Cooking Challenge: Dijon Stew with Cognac

I admit, this stew wasn’t so much of a cooking challenge, meaning the techniques weren’t at all difficult. But it was the preface to the recipe that caught my eye. “Long before there were antidepressants, there was stew.”

This recipe appeared in the pages of the New York Times a couple of weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and I remember reading the article and recipe. Everyone was still sort of in shock, daily home chores were set aside, but getting back to the kitchen was something that was necessary, to feed both the body and soul. I remembered reading the article, which you can find here. So on a weekend of sub-zero temperatures, beef stew was on the menu.

A few notes . . .

• You might want to have your butcher select the two pounds of boneless beef chuck; I pulled a nice looking package out the fridge, only to find when I opened it, the back side had inches of fat, which subsequently was cut away. I lost at least half a pound if not more of actual weight of meat.

• I was unable to find Pommery mustard locally, so I bought a reasonably priced whole grain mustard (which has turned out to be fantastic with a little bit of mayo on a turkey sandwich!).

• The first step is to render salt pork or bacon, but you don’t keep the meat. I used bacon, and I think instead of wasting a couple of slices of bacon (well, of course, it’s bacon, they weren’t wasted!), you could use a couple of tablespoons of bacon grease. But then, maybe I’m the only one who has a jar of bacon grease from past cookings in the back of the fridge?

• The cooking time. You cook the stew for nearly 2 hours, but what I didn’t factor in when looking at this is the prep time before hand, count on 30-60 minutes. Dinner was a little late that night!

All in all, while a bit on the expensive side (I spent way more than I  normally would for dinner, but this would make a special meal for company) this was delicious, homey, and the mustard just zings through the dish. Served over buttered egg noodles with some green peas on the side, it was the perfect dish for a cold winter’s night. And I tucked a container in the freezer for when we get another cold snap!

Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew
Serves 4 to 6

From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, Classic Recipes for a New Century, by Amanda Hesser, 2010.

¼ pound salt pork or bacon, diced (I used bacon)
1 large onion, finely diced
3 shallots, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, or as needed
2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup Cognac or other brandy 
2 cups beef broth
½ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup Pommery or whole-grain mustard
4 large carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into half-moons
½ pound white mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
¼ cup dry red wine (I used a Merlot)

1. Place the salt pork in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-low heat and cook until the fat is rendered. Remove the solid pieces with a slotted spoon and discard. Raise the heat, add the onion and shallots, and cook until softened but not brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a large bowl.

2. If necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pot to augment the fat and increase the heat to medium-high. Dust the beef cubes with the flour and season with salt and pepper. Shake off any excess flour and place half the cubes in the pot. Cook until well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, then transfer to the bowl with the onions. Repeat with the remaining beef.

3. Add the Cognac to pot, and cook, stirring until the bottom is deglazed and the crust comes loose. Add the broth, Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon Pommery mustard and whisk to blend, then return the meat and onion mixture to the pot. Lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer gently until the meat is very tender, about 1 ½ hours.

4. Add the carrots and continue simmering for 30 minutes, or until tender.

5. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté the mushrooms until browned and tender.

6. Stir the mushrooms into the stew, along with the remaining 3 tablespoons Pommery mustard and the red wine. Simmer for 5 minutes, then taste and adjust the seasoning.

6 thoughts on “January 2012 Cooking Challenge: Dijon Stew with Cognac

  1. I love the quote “Long before there were antidepressants, there was stew.”

    Stew is so homey.

    As for that fatty beef, I’m inclined to bring it back these days. Or at least tell them the next time you see them. Your food dollar needs to go far these days.

    Thanks Chris for another possible recipe…

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