The French tend to rave about daube de boeuf, a flavorful beef stew from Provence, without it being clear exactly why. Like Proust’s madeleine, this dish must evoke memories of childhood. And indeed, daube harks back to a simpler time, when dishes simmered for hours in a pot set over an open fire, their aroma filling the house until the family was seated to enjoy a tender moment of togetherness. But after all, it’s only beef stew — right?
Daube de boeuf / Beef stew, Provence style
Well, not exactly. In this stew, the beef is marinated in red wine overnight together with onions, garlic, thyme, bay, cloves, peppercorns and … red wine vinegar … before simmering for several hours with an ingredient that is not generally found in other stews, but that is the key to success: dried orange peel. It gives the daube an unmatchable flavor. Other ingredients may be included, depending on the cook’s proclivities, from carrots, bacon or tomatoes to black olives, anchovy filets or, in my case, fresh sage.
Daube was traditionally cooked in a daubière, a covered clay pot that sat over the fire, or in a heavy stew pot with a concave lid filled with water to allow gentle cooking of the beef. Recipes were jealously guarded, handed down from generation to generation. There are many variations — some recipes even call for white wine. But the classic is made with a decent bottle of red, preferably a wine from Provence, like a Côtes du Rhone or Côtes du Ventoux, the kind of wine you wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve to guests.
I was inspired to post this recipe by my friend Martine, who made a sumptuous daube de boeuf with carrots for her guests at a dinner the other night. She served the daube with tenderly boiled potatoes. In Provence it is also served with gnocchi or fresh tagliatelle, preceded or followed by a green salad, and accompanied by a more than decent bottle of red. This is a hearty dish that will keep you warm on a cool winter’s night.