Carbonnade – Flemish Beef & Beer Stew

Ingredients

1.5 pounds       (24oz)        beef flap or chuck
2   cups         (16oz)        onions chopped
2   tablespoon   (1oz)         brown sugar
28  ounces                     13th Original Maple Stout
1                              Bay leaf
2   sprigs                     Fresh Thyme
2   tablespoons                Apple cider Vinegar
1/4 cup                        Flour to dredge
                               Salt and pepper to taste

It may sound crazy to be combining brown sugar, vinegar and beer, but in this dish you are after a sweet and sour effect. A good whole grain mustard is a good substitution for the vinegar, but my favorite is to use real apple cider that you’ve hidden away until it just begins to turn. But that’s usually a fall thing.

Cut up the meat into large chunks. Not as small as bite/fork size, because the pieces will break apart on their own once you have braised this for 3 hours. Put the meat in a large bowl, salt and pepper to your taste and then dredge with flour, tossing the meat to get the pieces covered in the flour, salt and pepper.

NOTE: A word about the meat choice. Since this is a braised (cooked in liquid ) dish, you can use just about any cut of beef you want, but expensive cuts may actually not fare as well as some of the tougher less expensive cuts. Hence my choice of flap. The flap is actually part of the flank. It has great flavor but it's not tender enough to make it as a steak. But it braises beautifully and its usually inexpensive. The other easy choice is chuck and you'll often find it all cut up for you.

Since the onions are the only other ingredient you can see in the finished dish, I like to use whole pearl or boiling onions. I blanch them, then slide off the outer skins. But you can just as easily use regular large onions. Peel ’em and chop ’em. If you are chopping your onions, you’ll probably want to brown them a bit in some butter or olive oil in the bottom of your braising pan. I add the boiling onions after browning the meat without browning them.

If you’ve browned your onions, remove them from the pan and set them aside while you brown the meat. Add some oil to the pan, get it hot, then add the floured meat chunks. My small five quart cast iron dutch oven requires me to brown the meat in two batches. The objective is to get all the sides of the meat browned. This should go pretty fast and the pieces will stick. Don’t worry about the sticking or the browned flour and meat reside left on the bottom of the pan. And don’t burn it! There’s a lot of flavor in those bits. Once we add the beer, the pan will deglaze itself and release all the stuck-on bits into our stew.

When all the meat has been browned, add back any you have removed and add the onions. Now pour on the beer. The object here is to have enough liquid to pretty well cover the beef and onions. Again the size of your pan may play a roll here. I have down-sized my braising from a family-sized dutch oven that would hold a small turkey, to a nifty 5 quart cast iron pot with probably a third of the bottom area. This means less liquid to cover the meat and vegetables I’m braising. If you are short of enough beer to cover, adding some beef stock or even just water will do the trick. The liquid is going to cook down by about 2/3’s and become a very concentrated gravy for our stew.

Sprinkle in the brown sugar, add the cider vinegar the bay leaf and the thyme. That’s it! Cover the braising pot and place it in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about three hours. I check it every hour. At the beginning of the last hour check the seasoning and adjust. You’ll want to check the liquid at this point too. You don’t want to cook off all the liquid. The stew will burn and make a mess of your pot. Add a bit more if you think the meat is not done and the liquid is too low. You want the meat to fall apart at the touch. I usually use some tongs to lift a piece out and place in on a small plate to cool. Then I can check the done-ness and the seasoning without burns.

NOTE: A word of caution, your pot will be very hot and full of steam. You can use mitts to remove it from the oven, then slowly open the lid to release the steam before checking the contents.

This is a hearty dish and will not require much more than a nice green salad on the side. Of course if you’re going for the full effect, frites (the Belgian version of french fries) is the traditional accompaniment. Of course Bucket Multigrain Beer Bread, is great on the side too.

I like to server Bucket’s Rhode Scholar (22 IBU 4.6%ABV) or Pawtucket Pail Ale (48 IBU 6.2%ABV) with it this Flemish Beer Stew.

This entry cross-posted at Bucket’s Kitchen.
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