The best beef stew I ever ate was at a restaurant in Provence, France, in the town of Avignon. The bistro is called La Fourchette and the memorable dish was la daube de boeuf a l'Avignonnaise. It was simply sensational.
Making beef daube over the years, I've never quite reached the ethereal heights of that incredible version in Provence. But, this recipe comes really close. The key to it is that it cooks over 3-4 days. Not continually, but reheated until the flavors merge together and the beef becomes succulent and tender. This stew gets better with time, so plan ahead. Most of the preparation takes place in the first hour. After that, it's just a matter of reheating the daube. That leaves little work left to do on the day you serve it.
3 lbs. boneless beef chuck, cut into large chunks
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 large garlic cloves: 4 minced, 12 cut into slivers (For a short video on how to peel an entire head of garlic in seconds, click here.)
3 onions: 2 minced, 1 peeled and stuck with 4-5 cloves
2 large carrots, diced
1 14-oz. can crushed tomatoes (preferably Italian)
1 bottle red wine
1/4 cup wine or sherry vinegar
Bouquet garni made with 5 parsley sprigs, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves and 5-6 scallions greens or 2 leek greens, tied into a cheesecloth bundle
1 cup pitted black olives (optional)
In a large dutch oven or casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Brown the beef in uncrowded batches until nicely browned on all sides. Add a little additional olive oil if the pot gets too dry.
Remove the beef from the pot and place on a platter. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Add the minced onion, minced garlic and carrots to the pot and cook over medium heat, about 8 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.
Add the tomatoes and their liquid to the pot and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes.
Add the wine and vinegar.
Bring to a boil over high heat and allow the liquid to boil for 3 minutes, scraping the meat solids from the bottom of the pan (deglaze).
Turn the heat off and add the beef to the pot, along with the clove-stuck onion and the bouquet garni.
Allow the daube to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
On Day 2, remove the daube from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Then, bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionallly. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 2 hours. Let the daube cool completely again and return it to the refrigerator for another 24 hours.
On Day 3, add the (optional) olives, bring the daube to a boil over moderate heat again. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and allow to simmer gently again for 1 hour. At this point, the daube is ready to eat. However, it's even better if you repeat the cooling, refrigeration and cooking one more day, on Day 4.
Before serving, remove and discard the bouquet garni and the clove-stuck onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The traditional accompaniment for daube Provencal is macaronade - macaroni au gratin made with parmesan cheese.
Serve with a hearty red Cotes du Rhone wine or maybe a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from near Avignon. Bon apetit!