My son persuaded me to watch Heston Blumenthal's new tv show on Channel 4 the other night. I've always been really cynical about Heston's kitchen pyrotechnics - to me he is the culinary equivalent of the pianist Lang Lang: all flashy show and no substance. Friends who have eaten at his restaurant The Fat Duck by the Thames at Bray tell me the food is incredible, and my son loves Heston's 'laboratory-style' cooking. The new series sees Heston in a more domestic setting, cooking things we can all manage in our kitchens at home, without the need for liquid nitrogen or other gizmos, and the first episode focused on beef.

I'd been meaning to make a proper beef bourguignon (literally beef cooked in Burgundy wine) since we returned from our Christmas holiday in the French Alps. In his programme, Heston demonstrated some key techniques for cooking beef, including his "tip" for bringing out the flavour of the meat: surprisingly, star anise, a spice more commonly associated with Asian cooking. He also recommended ox cheek as a good, economy cut for slow cooking. My local Waitrose sells both pig and ox cheek, both are very cheap, and delicious. So, armed with ox cheeks, shallots, dinky baby carrots and mushrooms, a bottle of Good Ordinary Claret, and a packet of star anise, I returned home to cook.

Beef Bourguignon is one of those great, classic dishes which has numerous variants. Really it is just a beef stew, slow cooked to allow the flavours to develop. Done well, it is glorious, especially when served with fluffy mashed potato. A robust, full-bodied red wine is essential, and use good stewing steak for this dish. If you're using ox cheek, don't brown the meat as this will make it tough. Simply add it to the casserole and cook for about three hours. I can confirm that the result will be mouth-wateringly tender, infused with the lovely rich wine sauce.

Nigel Slater's recipe is pretty authentic - find it here. I added the star anise with the onion/bacon etc at the start of cooking. I also used baby carrots and mushrooms as well as shallots. I didn't brown the mushrooms and shallots separately - because life too's short, ain't it?

Here is the wonderful Julia Child (America's answer to Elizabeth David) cooking Beef Bourguignon


  1. ".... life too's short, ain't it?" Too short to be cynical about brilliant technicians like Heston and Lang Lang. Being open minded opens new you've found. Heston's steak ideas and burger ideas are brilliant too (I've tried both).
    And leave Lang lang out of it he's got his own brilliance as well if you let him. Its only boring staid people who call him Bang bang.


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