Carbonnade – A Quick Trip to Belgium

When I was a junior in high school, we had a foreign exchange student named Morgane who was visiting our school from Belgium. She was totally awesome: quick-witted and always ready for a joke, spoke a ridiculous number of languages, and was always so much fun to be around. I learned a lot of things from Morgane– for instance, how to say Smurf in German and that there are words for the chicken dance song… in French!

Scary high school photo to embarrass both Morgane and me (I’m even wearing my class ring).

When I put out the call to my friends to send me recipes, Morgane was one of the first to respond, offering up a number of Belgian delicacies. Carbonnade, or Flemish Beef and Beer Stew, was one of the recipes she sent. I am familiar with beef bourguignon, and this seemed similar, with a few twists. Whereas beef bourguignon’s broth consists largely of red wine, the carbonnade called for a Belgian abby ale. Anything that calls for beer is already a good time in my book!

Mise en place
Mise en place

Other than beer, this recipe called for a combination of fresh herbs, veggies, beef and… bacon! Hmm… beer and bacon. You can’t go wrong, right?

Mmmm.... bacon.....
Mmmm…. bacon…..

For the beer, I chose St. Bernardus Abt 12. It is one of the best abby ales you can buy. I make it a point not to cook with wine or beer I wouldn’t drink; whatever the flavor of the alcohol is before you cook it, that will be the flavor once the alcohol burns off. Besides, there’s almost always a glass or two leftover (which there was in this case!).

All the beef getting happy in the broth and beer.
All the beef getting happy in the broth and beer.

This was a fairly easy, low maintenance recipe. One of the most important things to note is that you have to really caramelize the onions. That doesn’t mean let them “sweat” for a couple minutes; you’ve really got to let them simmer for a good 30-40 minutes to get that beautiful color. It blew my mind when I found out that caramelizing onions did not mean pushing them around the pan for a little bit. For a good lesson, check out this article at the Kitchn.

Carbonnade, egg noodles, and asparagus, with a glass of Belgian abby ale.
Carbonnade, egg noodles, and asparagus, with a glass of Belgian abby ale.

The result was a tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef with a thick, salty, slightly sweet and slightly bitter gravy. I paired it with egg noodles, per the recipe, and some roasted asparagus.

Since I am such a beer lover, Belgium is definitely on my list of potential future destinations. I can’t wait to try this, see my friend Morgane, and do a Belgian beer tour in the future.

Carbonnade (from Saveur)


2 lb. beef chuck, cut into 2″ x ½″-thick slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup flour
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 slices bacon, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 cups Belgian-style ale (I used St. Bernardus Abt 12)
1 cup beef stock
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs tarragon
1 bay leaf
Bread, for serving


Season beef with salt and pepper in a bowl; add flour and toss to coat. Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add beef; cook, turning, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside. Add bacon; cook until its fat renders, about 8 minutes. Add remaining butter, garlic, and onions; cook until caramelized, about 30 minutes. Add half the beer; cook, scraping bottom of pot, until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Return beef to pot with remaining beer, stock, sugar, vinegar, thyme, parsley, tarragon, bay leaf, and salt and pepper; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until beef is tender, about 1 ½ hours. Serve with bread and some Belgian ale.


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