Carbonade Flamande (food recipe)

Here is a short report of one of the nicest dishes I’ve made in a while, perfect for cold and dark evenings. My girlfriend has moved to Brussels, so I’ve been spending a lot of time here, and I was keen to cook something local.  Carbonade Flamande is a Flemish speciality (as the name suggests), and it’s basically a beef and oignon casserole, with a nice rich Belgian beer forming part of the sauce. It’s also a simple dish that uses beer very nicely. Stews are an inexact science, so it’s a little made up, but the following quantities are about right. For the beer, I have used  Westmalle, they’re cheap here but you may balk at using a bottle of that at home. Anything dark and not too bitter will work, Leffe Brune is fine, Chimay is often cheap enough, even a porter will work, and in any case something similar to this is done at home (Ireland) in a beef and stout stew.

Westmalle, It’s a cooking beer, really.

You’ll need the following ingredients

500g Stewing Beef (this is a slow cooker. Chuck, Shoulder, Blade, all sorts of cuts are used by the Belgians, and their cuts are different to ours so I’m not sure what exactly I got at the butcher). Cut into 1 inch cubes.

100g Salt Pork – Rashers will do, but preferably something thicker, it’s nice to have this in relatively large cubes (1cm). Pancetta would be good here, the key is to have something fatty to keep everything moist.

2 or 3 onions, halved and then sliced thin along the length

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

3 shallots, chopped

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp vinegar

1 tsp thyme

2 bay leaves

300g Veal stock (veal is traditional, but beef or whatever will do)

330ml dark Belgian beer

pinch of flour

knob of butter

dash of oil

2 tsp plain flour

Stale Bread

Mustard

Ok here goes. First set the oven to about 160/170c.  Fry the cubes of salt pork/bacon/pancetta/whatever in a little oil until they have a bit of colour and the fat starts to go translucent. Set them aside in a bowl. Now brown the cubes of beef in a pan, and set them aside, with whatever liquid has come out of them.

Next, take a fairly heavy pot. Heat a lump of butter and a little oil, and fry the onions and shallots. When they are starting to cook, add a tsp of sugar, to help them caramelise. As they’re getting brown, add the chopped garlic. Once they are a golden brown colour, deglaze the pan with the vinegar and turn off the heat. Add the thyme and bay leaves, return all the meat to the pot (sprinkle about 2 tsp of plain flour on the meat first), add the stock, and the beer. Mix it around, and stick a lid on it, or some tin foil if you don’t have a lid. Pop it in the oven for 2.5 – 3 hours. Check it once in a while to make sure it’s not getting too dry, if it is, add a little water. With about an hour to go, taste the casserole and season with salt and pepper if needed (depending on what bacon you used it could be salty enough already). Slice the stale bread in to thick rounds, spread some mustard on each one, and sit on top of the mixture. They will soak up some of the juice, and bake on the top of the casserole, forming a delicious mustardy crust. This dish is traditionally served with potatoes, steamed, or perhaps mashed. Perfect dark-day comfort food.

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