English is an amalgamation of numerous languages that have been left to simmer over time and flavoured to meet different palates, but it’s interesting to note one area where the language doesn’t seem to want to make changes – cookery. At the same time, for a great number of people, there is still an air of mystery surrounding some cooking phrases, which are, for Western cuisine, mostly in French. Today, let’s look at one of the tastiest cooking words to come out of 1915 – boeuf bourguignon.
Boeuf bourguignon, which literally can mean “Burgundy-style beef,” is a stew consisting of beef, Burgundy wine, broth, herbs, mushrooms, and typical stew vegetables – such as potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. But beyond the dish itself, boeuf bourguignon essentially tells the story of the global rise of classical French cooking. For many years prior to the word’s first usage in France circa 1866, the dish was considered a simple peasant stew, where meat required time to cook in wine and broth. In the half century that it took the word to arrive in English, the dish gathered wide attention in France as well as abroad as being a classic example of French cooking (along with the likes of coq au vin, escargot, jambon persillé, etc.). To finally cement its place among the culinary elite due to its inclusion in renowned chef Auguste Escoffier’s (of Savoy and Ritz-Carlton fame) Le Guide Culinaire, published in 1903.
It wasn’t long until the word finally made its way into the English language. A mere 12 years after Escoffier’s guide, the word appeared in a September 1915 issue of The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, where the author describes a meal by saying, “We sat over our substantial soup and our working-men’s portions of boeuf bourguignon.”
In 1944, the restaurant critic and chronicler of the social elite Iles Brody, described the richness of the dish in the On The Tip of My Tongue cookery book: “Who wants to drink water to wash down oysters? …Or boeuf bourguignonne?”
Though possibly the most common reference offers the best suggestion – coming from Michael Kenyon’s May You Die in Ireland (1965), “He would have liked someone to cook boeuf bourguignon for him in the evenings.”
Seeing as how we are currently in the grip of a cold winter, this may be a good time to warm up with a nice, hearty bowl of this classic peasant stew.