Beef Stew is a delicious, warm comfort food that is popular around the world, but the French have taken this simple stew and made it their own with beef bourguignon. Learn the differences between the two so you can know which you prefer!
Beef stew is such an easy, filling dish that truly warms you up from the inside out.
Most cultures have their own version of stew with beef (like this Seswaa from Botswana). It’s an easy way to use up tough cuts of beef, which become tender and delicious when cooked slowly over time, as well as hearty vegetables like carrots and potatoes.
The French also have their own version of beef stew. Theirs is called Beef Bourguignon.
While beef bourguignon is considered a beef stew as it has chunks of meat cooked slowly with vegetables in a broth, there are some things that make beef bourguignon different from a typical American beef stew.
While beef bourguignon is a beef stew, beef stew is not beef bourguignon.
If you want to take comfort food to a new level, it’s important to understand the difference between beef stew and beef bourguignon.
What is Beef Stew?
Beef stew is made with cuts of beef and vegetables stewed together over a long period of time until the meat and vegetables are perfectly tender. As the stew cooks, the flavors melt together creating a dish that is full of simple beef flavor but plenty of texture.
Different stew recipes may call for different vegetables. Most use carrots, potatoes, onions, and celery or peas.
Beef stew may also be made with different cuts of beef and a different mixture of herbs and spices. Usually, beef stew is made with tough cuts of meat, chopped and sauteed before cooking for several hours to make them soft.
The stew is traditionally cooked in beef broth or beef stock but some recipes may call for some tomato sauce as well as a bay leaf.
What is Beef Bourguignon?
Beef Bourguignon is a classic dish in French cuisine. It is beef stew, with chunks of beef and vegetables, but the main difference is the use of red wine in beef bourguignon rather than a simple beef broth.
While the red wine is the main difference between the two dishes, it is not the only difference. Beef Bourguignon also contains other unique ingredients that add to its depth of flavor.
One of the big differences between these two dishes is where they come from.
The exact origin of American beef stew is hard to place. Stews have been made since ancient times and each culture seems to have its own version that has been spread across borders.
The beef stew that most Americans are familiar with may have Irish, French, or English roots. It seems to be a variation on stew found in each of these areas, just simplified to be more accessible for those feeding a crowd on a low budget. Beef stews made with more herbs and tomato paste may be inspired by Julia Child.
Beef Bourguignon, or more authentically, “Boeuf Bourguignon”, is distinctly French. It comes from the Burgundy region of France and may also go by the name “Beef Burgundy”. There, one of their most popular regional ingredients is red wine and another is beef. The combination of both for this stew just makes sense.
Both of these dishes call for chunks of meat but from there, the ingredient list varies.
Beef stew usually contains potatoes, onions, carrots and peas. These vegetables are cooked in beef stock and possibly a bit of tomato sauce.
Beef Bourguignon calls for bacon grease or lard for browning the beef cubes, pearl onions, garlic, carrots, and button mushrooms. Many recipes for Beef Bourguignon may suggest a higher-quality cut of beef like brisket or round steak, while beef stew can be made with any beef stew meat like chuck roast or chuck beef.
Beef Bourguignon is cooked low and slow in the braising liquid, high-quality pinot noir, a red burgundy wine, lending the flavor of the wine to the tender beef. The vegetables are often added in the last half hour to keep their flavor strong and independent from the beef chuck. Bacon lardons mix in with the rest of the ingredients for even more flavor.
The result of these ingredients is a completely unique flavor that makes this classic French stew more rich and complex than a simple beef stew.
When served, these two dishes look very similar, but their flavor is unique in part due to the way they are prepared.
For both dishes, most recipes call for chopping the beef and cooking it in a skillet with a bit of olive oil to sear the outside before adding it to the stew.
Beef stew is cooked in an open pot on the stovetop at low heat. Broth can be added to the dish as it cooks to ensure there is adequate cooking liquid. As the meat and vegetables are slowly cooked they become soft and share flavor.
Traditional American beef stews can also be cooked in a slow cooker or a large Dutch oven.
Beef Bourguignon may have a little longer cooking time. Once the meat is browned, it is deglazed with wine or brandy and then braised in red wine until fully cooked and tender. The braising process traps the liquid and also enhances the flavor.
The braising of this classic French dish can be done on the stovetop, in the oven, or in the Instant Pot like the recipe on my site.
This stew cooks for several hours before small onions, vegetables, and fresh parsley are added near the end for additional flavor.
You do need to be cautious not to overcook beef bourguignon. If overcooked the sauce may turn out bitter, rather than rich and flavorful. If cooked too short, your meat will not be tender and soft. This requires some careful watching and testing to ensure it is done but not overdone.
Beef stew and Beef Bourguignon are very similar dishes, but they are eaten in very different ways.
Beef stew is typically a meal all on its own. It was designed as a way to use tough meat and hearty vegetables and has always been accessible to all demographics and viewed as a simple, casual meal.
It is served as the main course, possibly with some bread to soak up any leftover gravy and a light salad to balance the heavy dish.
Beef stew is packed with vegetables and the potatoes often break down during cooking making it thick, hearty, and filling.
Beef Bourguignon can be eaten alone but more often it is served with spaghetti noodles, potatoes, or other pasta noodles. It could also be served over rice or polenta. Often you may see beef bourguignon served with a side of vegetables like peas or green beans. Check out this other list of Beef Bourguignon Side Dishes as well!
Taste and Flavor
While these two stews are often confused for one another, once you taste them side by side it’s tough to discount the differences and how they impact the final dish.
Beef stew is simple and delicious. You can almost tell by looking at it what the flavor will be and that is exactly what you get.
Typically the spices used in beef stew are very simple. The majority of the flavor comes from the vegetables and the meat itself.
Beef Bourguignon is more complex. There is a rich flavor that comes from the red wine and seeps into every bite.
As the bite melts in your mouth, you will taste more of the carrots, mushrooms and beef and the bacon offers a salty, savory kick. The combination of the powerful wine flavor and the earthy stew makes it truly unique.
If you are searching for a simple stew, you can’t go wrong with a bowl of traditional American beef stew. It is delicious, hearty, and fitting for even the pickiest eaters. With easy-to-find ingredients, it’s a dish that is perfect for a quick weeknight or crock pot meal.
If you are looking to branch out from a simple stew, classic French Beef Bourguignon may be a great option to try. It’s not difficult to prepare, but it contains complex flavors in the rich red wine sauce. This is a dish that is sure to impress guests at a dinner party but also easy enough to make in the pressure cooker for a casual meal at home.