I was cooking a Boeuf Bourguignon for Sunday lunch last week and the smell of lardons frying in the pan reminded me how much of a staple item it is in France and how frequently I use them in recipes.
Lardons are basically diced smoked bacon, which you can buy in most if not all supermarkets already prepared.
In most cookery programmes I have watched in recent years, chefs will often use the more expensive version of the humble lardon in their recipes, Pancetta. It may make any old recipe sound posh but my view is it doesn’t actually make that much difference which type you use. I’m not a chef and not quite that precious about my bacon, and it shows in my personal preference, which goes to Lidl’s beech smoked rindless bacon lardons. They are wonderfully fragrant and are sold in 2 packs of 125g each, making it really easy to avoid wastage, as you can just freeze one of the packs for later use. If you really can’t find lardons anywhere but have access to bacon, you can make your own using smoked streaky bacon. What is most important is that there is a decent amount of fat on them.
As I said I use lardons a lot, especially in slow-cooked stews like the Boeuf Bourguignon, the humble chicken stew, various pasta dishes (it’s a main ingredient of a Carbonara sauce), on pizza, mixed in with sautéed potatoes (or say to improve Sunday evening leftover feast of bubble and squeak).
For a fantastic video tutorial of how to make Boeuf Bourguignon, I cannot recommend enough the wonderful work of Becoming Madame, who uses a Julia Child recipe. It’s very close to the recipe I used, although mine didn’t require carrots and added mushrooms towards the end.
My Boeuf Bourguignon recipe comes the completely non-chefy ‘2000 recettes de la cuisine française (de la gastronomie française aux spécialités régionales)‘.
1 kg of beef (I would recommend a mixture of lean and fatty pieces for tastier results), cut into chunks
100 g lardons
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
250 g chestnut mushrooms
30 g plain flour
50 g vegetable oil
300 ml water
300 ml red wine (from Burgundy for the authentic taste)
1 bouquet garni (I use shop-bought ones, but you can make your own by tying a sprig of thyme, parsley and a bay leaf together)
salt + pepper
1. In a large heavy-based pan (like a Le Creuset dish), fry the onion and the lardons in the oil. When they start to brown, remove from the pan and set aside.
2. In their stead, turn the pan to a high heat and brown the beef chunks on all sides. You can use two wooden spoons to turn the meat. Don’t put all the meat in the pan in one go, it will be quite difficult to turn and brown properly. Instead, properly brown the meat a few bits at a time.
3. Once the meat is brown, set aside with the onion and lardons.
4. In the leftover oil, throw the flour in one go and turn quickly to make an homogeneous paste. Cook for a minute, then add the water and the wine and bring to the boil, stirring constantly to avoid making lumps.
5. Put the meat, onion and lardons back in the pan with the bouquet garni, garlic, salt and pepper. If you are going to add carrots, this is the time to put them in. Cover the pan with its lid and leave to cook slowly on a low heat for three hours. Add the mushrooms, whole or cut into chunks, 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
6. Serve with new potatoes and green beans.
The Price of Lardons
Available widely in the UK e.g. Tesco’s 200g smoked lardons are £1.95 (their Finest range has some for £3.10 !!!)
In France, places like Auchan do 180g for around 2.28 €. I say ‘around’ because there is quite a lot of choice between smoked/unsmoked, pork/duck, supermarket’s own/big make like Herta, as you would expect.