C A S S E R O L E D  B E E F  P R O V E N Ç A L

Preparation time: 1 hour, plus minimum of 2

hours marinating

Cooking time: 3 hours

Serves: 6-8

Season: All ingredients available year-round

1 head of garlic, plus two extra garlic cloves

6 sprigs thyme

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1.8-2.2 kg boneless beef chuck roast

120 ml cognac

225 g unsmoked bacon with rind, cut into lardons

3 tblsp plain flour

8-10 round shallots, or 4-5 banana shallots

2 carrots

1 celery stick

2 tblsp tomato purée

1 bottle red wine, a fruity Grenache-Shiraz blend

works well

4 sprigs parsley

1 strip of orange zest

2 bay leaves

1 tblsp olive oil

Begin by washing and drying your fresh herbs and aromatic vegetables.  Peel and crush the two garlic cloves in a mortar.  Remove the leaves from three sprigs of thyme and add, along with a level tsp of sea salt and about a 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper, to the mortar.  Stir to combine and to gently bruise the thyme leaves to release their flavour.  Set aside.

Place the beef in a large glass or ceramic dish and drizzle over the cognac.  Rub the thyme/garlic mixture into the flesh.  Cover and marinate the beef for at least 2 hours, in the refrigerator but preferably overnight.

When ready to cook remove the meat from the refrigerator so as to allow its internal temperature to rise to a cool room temperature before cooking.  Preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F / gas 2.  

Using good sharp kitchen scissors, cut up the bacon (if your butcher hasn't already done it for you).  Transfer to a casserole with a tight-fitting lid large enough to fit the entire roast.  Drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil and fry the bacon.  Remove the bacon once it is slightly browned around the edges and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper.

Lift the beef from the dish.  Reserve any residual cognac.  Lightly coat the beef in the flour and gently lower it into the casserole with the bacon drippings.  Brown on all sides.  Using tongs and a fork, lift the beef from the casserole and transfer to a dinner plate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  If there is a large amount of fat on the bottom, use a large, flat spoon to scoop some of it out — you want about 2 tblsp or enough to coat the bottom of the casserole in a thin layer.

Put the whole shallots (skins and all) in a bowl and cover with boiling water — this will make it easier to peel them.  Leave them whole whilst you peel and chop the carrots and slice the celery.  Then, peel the shallots but don't slice them.  Place in the casserole along with the carrots and celery.  Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened in the bacon fat and beef drippings.

Add to the tomato purée and gently stir for a minute to caramelise and concentrate its flavour.  Pour in the red wine with any remaining brandy from the marinade and bring the entire mixture up to a rolling boil.  Cook to reduce the wine by a third, this should take about 15 minutes.

While the wine is reducing, tie the remaining three sprigs of thyme together with the parsley, orange zest and bay leaves with some kitchen twine.  Add the herb bundle to the casserole.  Slice the top off the head of garlic to expose the cloves.  Gently lower the browned beef and the bacon lardons into the braising liquid and tuck in the head of garlic, making sure the cloves are covered with the liquid.  

Cut a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the circumference of the casserole.  Cover the casserole with the parchment and place the lid on top of the parchment-covered casserole and press to secure the lid in place.  This will help ensure that no steam can escape from under the lid whilst cooking.  Cook in the preheated oven for 2 hours.  Start checking the meat after 1 1/2 hours.  When poked with a fork, the meat should be tender but not falling apart.  Once cooked, the casserole at this point will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Cook's note:  In addition to the vast quantity of wine used in this recipe, it was also traditional to include a pigs trotter.  Visually for some, this may be a difficult hurdle to overcome.  Yet, I promise you it is well worth the effort.  Have the butcher cut the trotter in half lengthwise.  When you add the beef and bacon back to the pot tuck in both halves of the pigs trotter.  The collagen from the trotter will give a luscious viscosity to the sauce.  If you are feeling brave, when cooked remove the trotter from the casserole and flake the meat from inside the cut trotter back into the wine sauce before serving for an unbelievably delicious depth of flavour (and texture) in the finished dish.