It’s Cold and Rainy. I Want Beer (Stew): Carbonnade Flamande

A few months back, one of us took a trip to Belgium to visit a friend.  On the last day, we stopped into a local hangout in Brussels for a quick meal before hopping the train back to London.  The meal that day was carbonnade flamande, a beef stew served over frites.  It was soothing, thick, kind of sweet yet kind of savory, and hit all the right notes on a cold afternoon.  We waited for another cold afternoon – and rainy – to recreate this dish here in London.

This is an easy recipe, but it does take some time to cook (around 3 hours), so again, a perfect kind of dish to have on a soggy and cold afternoon. Oh, and lest we forget, since it is made with beer, it is a great excuse to grab a few extras to have while waiting out the cooking time.

That said, do NOT skimp on the beer for this recipe – you want a proper, dark, strong Belgian quad or dubbel – we use St. Bernardus Abt 12.  Don’t use lager or a hoppy US style beer.  Keep it real, folks.

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Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg beef cheek or shin, cut into cubes
  • 3 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 slices of bacon, cut into lardons
  • 2-3 bottles Belgian quad/dubbel ale (33cl each)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 3-4 bunches of thyme
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Pasta and/or frites, to your liking

First, season the meat with salt and pepper, then cut it up into smallish cubes.  Melt half of the butter into a crock pot over high heat, and brown the cubes (don’t crowd the pot – give the cubes some room to breathe, using as many batches as you need).  While the meat is browning, chop up your onions.

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When the meat is finished browning, remove from the pot and set aside, but leave whatever remnants in the pot.

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Melt the rest of the butter in the pot, and add in the onions, and stir them around to coat.  Let them cook until browned (around 5 minutes).  Then add the flour and stir to get the onions well coated, and let that brown as well (another couple of minutes) – this will act as a thickener for the broth.

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Add the stock, beef, bacon, thyme, bay leaves and beer.  You should have enough liquid to just about cover the meat.  If you don’t, add more beer.

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Add a some salt and a good dose of pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil.  Then drop the heat to low and cover (partially – leave a little bit of space open so it can properly reduce).  Now the waiting begins.  Grab a beer, and let the magic happen.  You’ll likely need about 3 hours here, but give the mixture a stir every 30m or so, and check on the meat.  When it gets nice and soft, it’ll be finished. 30m or so before you are ready to serve, add in the brown sugar and mustard, give it a stir, and let it all come together.

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When the meat looks cooked, add in the brown sugar and mustard, and stir together.  Remove from the heat and serve over pasta (or frites, if you’re so inclined).  Have a glass of spare beer to wash it all down!

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