Category Archives: Food

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


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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Going Barmy

Elizabeth David in English Bread and Yeast Cookery mentions the idea of ‘Barm’ bread, which is basically bread that contains unfiltered ale and hence brewer’s yeast rather than baker’s yeast. Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of detailed recipes for it, and it is precisely on the details of beer and yeast that it falls down.


Enter Dan Lepard. This guy is a genius. He writes in the Guardian, and he has a superb book on bread called The Handmade Loaf, and if you’re interested in bread you should get it. We haven’t bought bread in months. I make the sourdough all the time, and my sourdough turns out light with huge bubbles and a super crust, not like the sort of grey lead-bread it always was before.

Ever since I saw Babette’s Feast, I was taken with the idea of beer bread, or the ollebrod that the danish sisters get her to make at the start. I’ve baked with stout and ale before, but they’re usually just flavourings in a normal yeast bread. Lepard’s Barm bread is more authentic, since it adds the yeast from a bottle conditioned beer to the starter, which is partly made up of a normal sourdough leaven. The sourdough leaven draws its rising power not from bread yeast but from wild microbes and Lactobacillus delbrueckii, the same culture responsible for both lambic beer and yoghurt. Lepard’s leaven recipe involves yoghurt and raisins, another wild yeast carrier.


The barm involves mixing up a starter from the normal leaven that you use for sourdough, but adding bottle conditioned beer, mixed with flour. The beer is heated, and flour whisked in. I was worried at this point that the heating would kill off the yeast in the beer, so I decided to add some of the Krauesening yeast  (the stuff that foams at the top of beer fermentation) from a brew I happened to have in full swing to the mix also. the whole mixture is left overnight.

Barm and Sourdough Starter

The next day, you make a bread largely in the same way as a sourdough, kneading at gradually larger intervals until the loaf gets left in a proving basket for four hours before slashing and baking. Proving baskets are expensive, but I just bought a cheap wicker basket and lined it with unbleached artist’s linen that I got in Murphy Sheehy in Dublin, it’s around 20e a yard, but half a yard was more than enough, I still have buckets left.

Prove it.

The loaf was delicious, airy, and above all you could taste the beer and bitter hops.

Barm Bread


Filed under Beer, Food, Yeast

Beer for Deer

Got a license to kill, and you know I’m going straight for your Hart

In this time of economic meltdown, it was refreshing to get a barter offer before christmas. A colleague of my girlfriend’s mother hunts deer from time to time, and heard about my brewing and suggested a swap. I mainly gave him my harvest ale, brewed with the home roasted malt described here, as well as some of the belgian stout that I described here, and just to be seasonal, a couple of christmas ales. I brewed a beer specially because he told me his wife preferred paler beers, so I made a fairly straightforward american blonde, 85% pale malt, 10% munich, 5% wheat malt, hopped to about 28 IBU with some northern brewer and cascade. Even though the IBU was lower than I’m used to it turned out super citrussy, I guess because the body was so light, it fermented right out because I mashed a little on the cold side. It’s definitely one I’d make for the summer, it was refreshing, light and grapefruity. Not the best picture, but a mobile was all that was to hand

Over Christmas Michelle made the switch, she and her brother drove out to somewhere near Limerick to meet the hunter. It was a dark and stormy night, and half way there, in the driving rain, they realised they were going to meet a hunter/butcher in the middle of nowhere to exchange some beer for some bloody frozen animal parts. To their credit they pushed on into the darkness. When they got there, and he saw how much beer there was, (over 40 bottles) he invited them back for even more venison. When I picked Michelle up off the train, she had a freezer bag full of about 10KG venison, including an entire fillet, about 14 inches long.

We’ve cooked it three times now, the first time we followed Darina Allen’s recipe from the Ballymaloe cookbook for venison stew, it involved an overnight wine marinade, and mushroom in the stew. fantastic. We did something similar the second time, but for the third time we decided to cut into the fillet

Venison fillet is a revelation. I usually eat good steak pretty close to blue, and with this we decided to do Carpaccio. We gave the piece a crust mainly based on crushed coriander seeds, and gave it about a minute each side on a very hot pan just to sear it. I sliced it as thin as I could and I was amazed by the texture, it was so lacking any seams of fat, or any visible grain at all. It looked more like tuna than beef. It tasted incredible, not too gamey (It wasn’t hung for very long before freezing) and absolutely melt in the mouth. I can’t wait to eat this again. It’s served on a bed of rocket and lemon juice is squeezed over it all.

Anyway bartering is the new way to go. What a success! I certainly hope that the other end of the bargain was as enjoyable, I was certainly proud of my beers. My only worry is that he expressed an interest in starting brewing himself. which will leave me deerless. I may have to take up my pointed stick and loincloth and head in to the Phoenix Park.

If anyone has any barter suggestions I’m sure there are plenty of things beer could be exchanged for!


Filed under Beer, Food

Prosciutto di Dublino

Ok, not so beer related, but that just goes to show that rather than being the preserve of alcoholic geeks alone, brewing has a natural home with baking, cooking generally, curing, salting, smoking etc. All things I love.

This story starts some weeks ago, christmas shopping in Tesco. I noticed that they had enormous legs of ham for only €26, which I believe was half price. The thing weighed over 8KG! The tiny cogs in my brain began to turn. I had been itching to try something from the book “preserved” by Jonny Acton and Nick Sandler, which is quite a funny read. There’s more going on between those two than meets the eye. Anyway they had a super simple looking recipe for cured dried ham, similar method to Prosciutto di Parma, or Jamon Serrano in Spain. I recently read an article about the niceties of Serrano, and there is far more to it than this, but it’s not a bad start. The pigs hang out in beautiful meadows and eat about 7KG of acorns a day, before going to slaughter, or “sacrifice” as the locals call it. Well worth a read.

Anyway that stuff gets salted for only 1 day per kilo, and then dried for up to 3 years! Acton and Sandler recommend 5 days per kilo, and then 3-6 months air drying. Anyway here is a pic of my raw ingredients. After much cajoling with the lady in the wine shop, I managed to procure a wine box. She was none too impressed at my project, “so you mean you’re just going to use this once? Will you have to throw it away then?” She uses these to store stuff and was loathe to indulge my uncertain experiments. I promised her some ham, which seemed to work.

Of course I needed salt. Unfortunately, I attempted this in early january, when Ireland was in deep freeze, well, about the same level of freeze that most other countries get in winter. But we’re just not used to it. Some bozos had bought every grain of cheap salt in the supermarkets to salt their driveways, because the local councils had run out. I eventually got some, because they forgot to look in the local fancy shop which had kilos of fancy italian sea salt for only 1.50 or so. Haha!

The salt mix is a mixture of salt, sugar and saltpeter. Now I had previously only known of saltpeter from playing civilisation (the life destroying computer game) where you have to discover saltpeter before you can build gunpowder units and smite your enemies. Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is a component in gunpowder, but also a useful food preservative. It is saltpeter that gives cured ham its pleasing red hue. Unfortunately, you can’t really buy it anywhere for obvious reasons. I feared the worst, I live in Ireland, surely I couldn’t just mail order some from the UK? What if I was a terrorist? Anyway it turns out they have bigger fish to fry these days, and I picked some up for next to nothing from these guys, who posted it promptly. So I mixed up all the ingredients , spread a little on the bottom, sat the ham on and spread the rest over it, paying particular attention to where the bones emerge. I popped the lid on and left it. One thing that johnny and nick didn’t mention was that a fair amount of liquid comes out of the ham. and I hadn’t allowed for that. It drips out through the seams of the box, more like ooze, it’s very clear but there’s a lot of the salt dissolved so it’s quite thick. I eventually sat the whole thing on a plastic box to catch the liquid. When it’s had it’s 40 odd days, in about a week, you make a kind of wash involving a red wine reduction, and wash the salt off the ham, smear it with pork fat, wrap it up with muslin and in a paper bag and hang it for 3-6 months. If it works I may splash out on a proper pig leg, perhaps from the super Rigny’s farm down near  Limerick. Patience people!  


Filed under Food