Slow Cooker Boeuf Bourguignon. (Emma Christensen / January 30, 2014)

TheKitchn.com

Boeuf bourguignon is so much more than just another beef stew. This classic French dish, made so popular by a certain Ms. Julia Child, is the kind of stew that can earn a marriage proposal. The deeply savory aroma alone -- redolent of onions, slow-cooked beef and red wine -- is enough to make your eyes roll skyward and your knees go weak. Make boeuf bourguignon once and you'll wonder why anyone ever bothers making anything else.

This dish is all about building flavor -- layer upon layer upon layer of delicious flavor. Start with bacon; render all the bacon fat and use the grease to sear the cubes of beef and then to cook the vegetables. Searing the beef and using a portion of the wine to deglaze the pan adds two more layers to the dish. After an afternoon of simmering (a method which is its own kind of flavor booster), the bacon bits and tender mushrooms get stirred into the stew for the grand finale.

The result of all this careful attention is a stew of surpassing richness and complexity -- a stew to impress a date or celebrate a winter birthday. Choose your guests wisely when serving boeuf bourguignon, because you will likely find them at your door again next week with begging bowls in hand.

You can prepare boeuf bourguignon in the slow cooker or in a Dutch oven, both with excellent results. Either way, be prepared for a bit of prep work. This is not the kind of dish where the ingredients can be dumped together in a pot, but rather one that takes some time at the stove before you can "set it and forget it."

When I make this in the slow cooker, I often prepare the meat and vegetables the night before and then put everything in the slow cooker the next morning so they can simmer all day. When I prepare it in the Dutch oven, I start early so I can be sure it will be ready by dinner -- or I make it the day ahead. The stew reheats well and is one of those dishes that tastes even better the second or third day.

P.S. Classically, boeuf bourguignon is finished with pearl onions as well as mushrooms. I think there's quite enough going on with this dish without either a) going to the trouble of preparing pearl onions myself, or b) falling back on frozen onions, so I skip them. That said, if you are a stickler for tradition or just love pearl onions, add a pound of them along with the mushrooms at the end of cooking.

Slow Cooker Boeuf Bourguignon

Serves 6.

8 ounces thick-cut bacon (5-6 slices), diced

2 1/2 to 3 pounds beef chuck roast, round roast or similar cut, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups good red wine, divided (see recipe note)

2 medium-sized yellow onions, thinly sliced

3 medium-sized yellow carrots, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf