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!
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!
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?
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!).
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.
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.