Carbonade Flamande

From Niall Munnelly

Serves 6

Says Niall, “Carbonade flamande is the Flemish equivalent of beef bourguignon, a hearty farmer’s food that has found a place in gastropubs and on slow-foodists’ tables for its emphasis on a few well-selected ingredients and rich, harmonious flavors. A thick stew made almost solely of beef, onions, and beer, carbonade flamande is also what I promised to prepare before I realized I hadn’t a prayer of making the two to three gallons requested for Soup & Bread, so I did what any resourceful chef would do: I whinged until my girlfriend offered to make some stock and scared up some useful vegetables to add a little volume to the dish. This recipe is for a traditional carbonade, prepared in a Dutch oven.” [Ed.: Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good photo of this. But it was delicious- hearty and beefy, with a strong mustard-and-beer backbone.]

Ingredients

3 pounds lean beef, cubed
3 medium white onions, finely chopped
375 milliliters Flemish sour ale, like Rodenbach, Monk’s Cafe, or the like. Belgian brown ales, like Chimay, Ommegang, etc are also good. Big bottles are good; you’ll have the rest to drink with the meal.
2 strips of thick, chopped-up bacon
1 teaspoon butter
2 bay leaves
a pinch or two of thyme
2 teaspoons mustard
1/2 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon currant jelly or a fruity lambic (cassis or framboise work well) for a little tart sweetness at the end.
sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 350 F. I sweat the bacon in the oven as it preheats, removing the pieces when much of their fat has rendered and they’re still fairly soft. Leave the pieces on a paper towel and reserve half a teaspoon of the grease. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper and brown the cubes with a dash of olive oil, transferring the browned pieces to a Dutch oven. I’ve learned over several attempts that flour doesn’t add much more to the stew than an alkaline flavor that needs to be compensated for later, and that the careless chef who uses too much oil serves a greasy, deeply unpleasant stew. Since you’re not making a roast, all that fat has nowhere else to go, so trim your meat assiduously, and use as little oil as possible – and then use less than that. Get the meat as dark as you can stand, and your patience will be rewarded in the end. Add the pieces of bacon to the meat, and, lowering the flame to medium-low, brown the onions in the teaspoon of butter and reserved bacon grease. You want these onions to be richly caramelized and soft, as dark as you’ve made the meat, so be sure to stir the onions occasionally, they’ll be a uniform brown, but not burnt.

Transfer the finished onions to the pot, and deglaze the pan with the ale on high heat, using your spatula to scrape all that goodness from the bottom of the pan. When the beer is boiling and foamy, pour it into the pot, add bay leaves and thyme. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the oven for at least two hours, stirring only occasionally. Three’s better, and four better still, but you have to find your own sweet spot between immediate gratification and melt-in-your mouth meat. Five minutes before serving, stir in the parsley, mustard, and jelly (or lambic). A little squeeze of lemon heightens the flavors and adds clarity, but it’s easy to overdo. I like to eat carbonade with whipped or coarsely mashed potatoes and garlic, or with roasted root vegetables, and usually pair it with the same beers I used for the recipe. Eat your stew with that double IPA in your fridge or a red Bordeaux, if you prefer; it’s a forgiving meal. For extra credit, toast some leftover stew with a sharp, crumbly cheddar cheese over tortilla chips for Nachos Belgium. I’m not kidding. Don’t forget the sriracha sauce.

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