Today, I am taking you to the South of France, and more precisely Provence, for the most famous of Provencal stews: daube.
I love this Provençal cuisine with southern accents and all its emblematic recipes that make its richness such as the famous salade niçoise, ratatouille, pissaladière, socca, or the popular tarte tropézienne.
What are the various versions of daube?
There are a few variants of daube recipes:
– The Provençal daube, the one I chose to prepare today, is the most famous. It is prepared with beef that is marinated in red wine or, more rarely, white wine.
– The Camargue daube, prepared with bull, also called “gardianne de taureau”.
– The Avignon daube (adòba avinhonenca or adobo avignounenco) is a variant of the classic recipe. It is prepared with lamb or mutton shoulder, in a marinade made with white wine.
– The comtadine daube, a variant of Provençal daube, without carrots, but with black olives.
– The Niçoise daube which is a variant with cep (porcini) mushrooms.
The Provençal daube is cooked with beef that is marinated in red wine from the vineyards of Provence. The meat, cut in large chunks, is marinated overnight. It is usually simmered with smoked pork belly, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, black olives, and a bouquet garni consisting of Provence herbs (thyme, savory, laurel), peppercorns, and little bit of orange peel. Sometimes ginger and cinnamon are added.
What is the origin of daube?
The word “daube” comes from the Provençal word adobar which means “to prepare or arrange”. The genius of the cooks who invented this stew was to prepare a tasty dish with ingredients of mediocre quality. “Adobo” in Provençal would mean “to arrange”, therefore to “improve”.
The majority of culinary historians agree that daube originated on the sides of roads and canals in Provence in the nineteenth century. Carters, the ancestors of today’s truck drivers, traded goods from the villages of Haute-Provence to large cities such as Aix en Provence and Marseille. Similarly, the sailors used to drag their heavy barges along the canals with their horses. These healthy, strong men had a ferocious appetite and were fond of these comforting dishes that they ate with a good local red wine and especially a beef stew called “daube”, a poor man’s dish which was however a real feast for those people in the countryside who did not eat meat, especially beef, or only on special occasions. They enjoyed their travels, although tiring, especially for the change brought to the routines of their daily diet.
Thus, in the 19th century in Provence, until the engines replaced horses, every post office, every inn, every retail shop, kept a warm pot of daube to feed these hungry travelers.
The daubière, the traditional pot used to cook this recipe, was placed on the hot ashes, beside the embers while waiting for the hungry traveler who would come eat it, either with potatoes or spelt porridge. The Italians came to settle in Provence a little later and introduced polenta to accompany this recipe, and then macaroni, which in the 20th century became the traditional accompaniment of all the daubes.
A legend says that the traditional Provençal recipe would be born thanks to the “feminine habit” of gossiping. It is also known that people from Provence can speak a lot!
One morning, a peasant woman cooked a piece of beef and, as she completely forgot about it, went to exchange some gossips with one of her neighbors. The beef slowly began to stick to the bottom of the pot, producing an odor that reminded the peasant of her household chores. To try to repair the damage, she covered her meat with water and… continued gossiping with her neighbor.
Three times in a row during the day, she forgot about her beef, and three times that day, she added water to the sauce. The third time, for fear of her husband’s complaints, she camouflaged the smell and look of the burnt meat with what she had on hand including tomato sauce, herbs, spices, and wine. Her husband found the dish delicious and asked for more!
For my part, to accompany my classic Provençal stew, I did not choose macaroni but traditional mashed potatoes with fleur de sel, from Camargue obviously, since we are in Provence. As for the daubière, I unfortunately do not have one. I wanted to order one on the internet but the delivery times were far too long. This will be my next purchase on my next trip to the Southeast of France!
The stewed, braised cooking is traditionally carried out slowly on a wood fire in this terracotta pot. So I chose to prepare my Provençal stew in an electric slow cooker, the same one I use for my Moroccan dafina, which requires the same process for a very long simmer. You can do as I did as it was tested and widely approved! And if you do not have a slow cooker, a cast iron pot will do the trick as well!
What cut of meat should you use to prepare a Provençal daube?
Originally, daube was prepared with galinette (from the flank or round). This cut contains a lot of nerves and tendons and is gelatinous. The nerves and tendons are stuffed with collagen which dissolve with the slow cooking process, and give the sauce its smooth and thick texture.
Besides this cut, you can also use cheek, chuck, scoter, ox tail or even hock to prepare an authentic daube.
Gossip or not, it is a dish that you can forget on the fire. You can even let daube simmer overnight or all day while at work. The proteins and their collagens will dissolve slowly and the sauce will be perfect. The slow transformation will sublimate the different flavors thanks to simple lengthy simmering. The result is just like Provencal cuisine, a cuisine that is sunny, colorful, full of flavors and spices, a delight for the palate and taste buds!
For my daube, I used beef cheek, a cut that I simply adore! The meat was fork tender, the sauce excellent, smooth and thick, just like in boeuf bourguignon! It was a great success with my guests and the Provençal dish was even better the following day!
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in French cuisine, Chef Simon. You can find Chef Simon on his website Chef Simon – Le Plaisir de Cuisiner.
- 2 lb beef flank (cheek, chuck or beef stew)
- 1 carrot , cut into 1-inch sections
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 bottle Provence red wine (preferably full-bodied)
- 3 cloves
- 1 leek (white part), cut into 3
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 bouquet garni (thyme, rosemary, savory, and laurel)
- 3 strips orange zest
- 4 carrots , cut into 2-inch sections
- 3 shallots , finely chopped
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 1 slice smoked pork belly , diced
- 1 cup black olives , pitted
- 2 tomatoes , peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Ground pepper
The evening before, cut the beef into large chunks and place in a large bowl.
- Add the onion, cut into 4, and with the cloves inserted. Add the carrot, 2 garlic cloves lightly crushed with the flat side of a knife and 2 pressed garlic cloves. Add bouquet garni and orange peels. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with red wine. Mix well.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for at least 8 hours in the refrigerator. Mix the marinade two or three times during this time.
- Drain the pieces of meat with a skimmer and place on paper towels. Reserve the marinade.
In a cast iron pot, Dutch oven or an electric slow cooker, heat the olive oil and sweat the shallots and onion over medium heat.
Add the smoked pork belly, and sauté for 3 minutes over medium heat. Add the meat, and brown the pieces of beef on each side.
- Pour the flour gradually and stir with a wooden spoon.
- Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and mix again.
- Remove the celery and leek from the marinade and add them. Cook 1 minute over high heat and simmer over very low heat for 5 to 7 hours or more.
- Two hours before the end of cooking, add the carrots and black olives. Ensure that the sauce does not completely evaporate during cooking.