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Carbonade Flamande, or Vlaamse Stoverij

Carbonade Flamande (Belgian beef and beer stew)

(Belgian beef and beer stew)

Image Creative Commons by Jiel Beaumadier

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Beef and beer is a food pairing any brew enthusiast will love. Flemish Belgians invented carbonade flamande using just that combination, and it's one of Belgium's iconic dishes. Apart from drinking, it's hard to think of a better use for a dark Belgian ale.

Onions are another necessary ingredient for authentic carbonades flamande. They are slowly sauteed to caramelize their sugars and add sweetness and a deep, rich color to the stew.

Other common names for this dish are stoofvlees or Vlaamse stoverij (Flemish) and carbonnades à la flamande (French).

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • Stewing beef (chuck or rump roast), cubed -- 2 1/2 pounds
  • Salt and pepper -- to season
  • Flour -- 1/3 cup
  • Oil -- 2 or 3 tablespoons
  • Smoked bacon, chopped -- 1/4 pound
  • Onions, finely chopped -- 2
  • Dark ale (not a stout; see notes) -- 3 cups
  • Stock or water -- 1 cup
  • Thyme -- 2 sprigs fresh, or 2 teaspoons dried
  • Bay leaves -- 2
  • Salt and pepper -- to taste
  • Brown sugar -- 2 tablespoons
  • Cider vinegar -- 2 tablespoons
  • Parsley, chopped -- 1 tablespoon

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a paper bag and add the beef. Toss to coat and remove the beef from the flour, shaking off any excess.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high flame. Add the beef in batches and brown on all sides. Remove the browned beef to a plate.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and add the chopped bacon to the pot. Saute until the bacon renders its fat and just starts to brown. Reduce heat to low and stir in the onions. Saute the onions until they are cooked down and turn deep, rich brown, around 10 to 12 minutes. Take care not to burn them.
  4. Add the beef back to the pot, along with the beer, stock or water, herbs and salt and pepper to season. Bring to a boil, then cover with a tightly fitting lid and place the pot in the preheated oven.
  5. Simmer in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring once or twice, until the the beef is meltingly tender.
  6. Remove the pot from the oven and skim off any excess fat from the top of the stew. Return to the oven, uncovered, for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Mix the brown sugar and vinegar in a small bowl to dissolve the sugar. Stir this mixture into the stew, along with the chopped parsley. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  8. Serve hot with boiled or mashed potatoes, French (or Belgian!) fries or buttered noodles.

Carbonade Notes and Variations

  • Meat: Try marinating the beef in the beer overnight you like.
  • Beer: A good Belgian ale is best for authenticity. Try an oud bruin, Ommegang Abbey, Flanders red or Chimay blue. A good-quality, locally produced dark ale would make a fine substitute. You can use more beer in your stew if you like, but this recipe saves some of the bottle for the cook. An ancient and honorable custom.
  • Thickening the Stew: Belgians sometimes thicken their carbonade with slices of spice bread (pain d'epices), which is a lightly sweet quickbread spiced like gingerbread. You can also use slices of a good-quality country loaf. Spread a good amount of grainy mustard on a couple slices of bread and float them on top of the stew just before you put it in the oven. The bread will dissolve into the stew as it cooks and gently thicken and flavor it. If you use spice bread, you can probably eliminate the brown sugar.
  • Sugar and Vinegar: Not all recipes call for adding this mixture. It adds a pleasant sweet-sour note to your carbonade, but it can be eliminated if you prefer.
  • Finish on Stovetop or in Slow Cooker: While an oven gives a more steady and surrounding heat that is ideal for slow cooking stews, you can finish the stew on the stovetop over medium-low flame if you like. Or try cooking your carbonade in a slow cooker. Just prep the stew up through Step Three and mix everything together in your slow cooker. Set to low or high according to your needs, and let the cooker finish it up for a fine dinner.

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