Bull stew

Bull stew (Gardiane)

Yes, you read that correctly. Bull stew. A stew made with the meat from bulls, not from cows.

Bulls raised for the local bull fighting, roaming in semi freedom in the Camargue area where the bulls are not killed in the fights. The area, dangerously close to the oil refineries and petrochemical plants of Marseille, is known for its free-ranging horses and flamingoes.

It is a nature reserve and tourist attraction, also called France’s wild-west because of the ‘cow boys’ on horses, the gardiens who shepherd the bulls in the marshy lands.


In the “Course Camargaise” bull fights, groups of men try to take a a small ‘cocarde’ from the bull’s head which is fixed between the horns. The bulls resist, the men have to run around them, using sticks to try and catch other ornaments fixed on the horns.

Some four to 20 men can fight with a single bull for half an hour.
But while the bull remains intact, some of the men do get hurt.
The meat of a bull is tougher and darker than that of a cow.
There are not many butchers that sell bull’s meat but at a fair in Paris there was a butcher straight from the Camargue who sold meat in sealed packages.
We had already appreciated the bull steak, but not yet the stew.

So when I was expecting four guests for a dinner that would take place after a day trip, my choice fell on the stew despite the warm weather – while in winter you would eat a large portion of the stew, in summer the portions can be smaller and be accompanied by a salad and some pasta with tomatoes.

The bull stew recipe is a traditional recipe going back for centuries in the Camargue and the wider Provence and it is no surprise that the recipe resembles much to the ‘daube de boeuf provençale’ with ‘normal’ beef. The daube is sometimes enhanced with olives, ansjovy and tomatoes.

This dish is called ‘Gardiane’ in Provençal French, which means the wife of the bull-keeper, not to be confused with the gardienne who is the house master of a building complex.
It is no haute cuisine, it is a solid stew where the wine and onions determine the overall taste.

Ingredients

  • One kilo of bull’s meat in large cubes
  • Four onions
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Two bay leaves
  • Two sprigs of thyme
  • A piece of orange peel
  • One bottle of solid red wine
  • Olive oil
  • Sole red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • (Old bread)

Steps

  1. Put the meat in a large bowl, add roughly chopped onions, the bay leaves, orange peel and thyme and pour over the red wine and some vinegar. The wine needs to cover the meat entirely.
  2. Let it stand overnight, turning from time to time.
  3. Take out the meat and pat dry, run the liquid through a sieve to a pan, set aside the onions, orange peel and herbs.
  4. Brown the meat in olive oil in a skillet, put in an earthenware heat-proof casserole.
  5. Warm the liquid and pour over the meat, add the onions, peeled cloves of garlic, herbs and orange. Add some salt and pepper. Put a lid on the casserole.
  6. Cook for two to three hours in the oven, first at 175 °C and after half an hour, after checking that the liquid simmers, at 150 °C.
  7. Check that the liquid does not evaporate too much, add water or wine when needed, preferably cooked (adding cold liquid to a warm dish can cause a temperature shock).
  8. At the end, lift the lid and let cool down.
  9. Take out the meat, as well as the herbs and orange peel, and run the onions and garlic through a blender.
  10. Reheat the sauce, if it is too liquid then add some old bread (no crusts) and stir. Check for salt and pepper.
  11. Put the meat in a large dish or back in the casserole, add the sauce and serve.
  12. (You can prepare the dish by cooking for two hours on one day, and finishing with 30 minutes to one hour on the presentation day)
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