Saturday, January 18, 2014

Carbonnades à la Flamande

Carbonnades à la flamande, or simply, carbonnade, is a classic Belgian stew made from beef and onions braised in beer. It is a close cousin to the red wine-based French boeuf bourguignon minus the carrots and mushrooms, though you could certainly add them if you wanted to break with tradition. The stew is traditionally flavored with a little brown sugar and a splash of apple cider vinegar or mustard, which further compliment its unique sweet and sour flavor.

I first made this dish when I spotted it flipping through Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' a number of years ago. It's a great winter dish, especially when there's a polar vortex upon us! I find it's a nice break from the more common red wine-based stews and braises that are typical throughout the season. Traditionally, the type of beer used most likely depended on the region in which the dish was cooked. Keeping that in mind, I've never been too obsessive over which beer to use. Over the years I've used different varieties, but I most commonly use a dark Belgian-style ale. Try a few types of Belgian beers and see what you prefer (don't judge, but I've even used Miller Highlife in a pinch, and though it wasn't as rich or dark as an Abbey-style beer, it still tasted great. However, a darker, slightly bitter-sour tasting beer is ideal). 

As with most braises, low and slow is key. I made this stew first thing in the morning and reheated it for dinner later in the day. It tastes even better a day or two after cooking, making it a great guest-friendly meal to be prepared in advance. Serve carbonnade with some crusty bread, potatoes or buttered noodles, and of course, a Belgian-style beer (or a full bodied red, if you prefer)!

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child, Bertholle, Beck  

Serves 6

2 to 3 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil, plus more as needed
4 slices (about 4 ounces) thick-cut bacon, diced
3 pounds chuck roast, cut into 2-inch by 4-inch slices, about 1/2-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
All-purpose four, as needed
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions (about 5 medium), sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint (2 cups) dark Abbey-style Belgian beer
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 sprigs flat leaf parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 275°F. 

Bring the beef broth to a simmer in a small saucepan, shut off the heat, and cover the pot to keep warm. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the bacon, stirring occasionally, until it has begun to brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a large plate or casserole dish. Set aside. 

Thoroughly dry the cut beef with paper towels (to ensure good browning) and generously season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the beef with just enough flour to lightly coat. Add another tablespoon of olive oil or vegetable oil to the pot. Quickly saute the beef in small batches over medium heat until it is nicely browned on both sides. Transfer the meat to the plate or casserole dish with the bacon. Continue sauteing in the same manner until all the beef is browned, adding more olive oil or vegetable oil as necessary. Set aside.

Add the onions to the pot and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are  caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. 

Pour in half of the beer and using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring the beer to a simmer and allow it to reduce, about 4 minutes. Return the beef and bacon back to the pot along with any juices that have accumulated. Stir in the brown sugar. Pour in the remaining beer and enough warmed beef stock to almost cover the meat. To make the bouquet garni (herb bundle), tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf together using butcher's twine (for ease in removing later) and add to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid, and place it in the oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork. 

When the stew is done, transfer it to the stovetop. Use a spoon to skim off any fat that has risen to the surface and discard. Make a beurre manie (a thickening agent of butter and flour): combine the butter and flour in a small bowl and blend until smooth using a fork. Stir the beurre manie and vinegar into the stew and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and discard. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. Garnish each plate with chopped parsley. Serve carbonnade with some crusty bread, potatoes or buttered egg noodles, and of course, a Belgian-style beer (or a full bodied red, if you prefer).

Alternatively, let the stew cool, cover, and refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on the stovetop, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot, reduce heat slightly, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes prior to serving. 

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