Carbonnade Flamande - the ultimate Craft Beer food pairing from the spiritual home of Artisan Brewing!
It’s been said “move to Belgium and you instantly gain 10kg”. It might be an exaggeration, but there’s at least some truth in it. They also say, “everything in moderation”, but as far as Flemish cuisine is concerned, moderation is one word that simply doesn’t feature. And with dishes like Carbonnade Flamande – a rich, sweet beer and beef stew - it’s very easy to see why!
Don’t worry if you’re vegetarian, this recipe is perfect if you replace the beef with a mix of fresh and dried mushrooms - field mushrooms, chestnut, button, champignon de Paris, etc. It’s all good!
There’s two things everybody knows about Belgium (three if you count ‘Try to name a famous Belgian’ – ok, so there’s TinTin and Hercule Poirot, but they’re both fictional): frites and beer – Dubbels, Tripels, Quadrupels, Abbaye beers to name but a few. There’s no two ways about it, for fans of Beer and fried potatoes, Belgium is the promised land!
"for fans of Beer and fried potatoes, Belgium is the promised land!"
But you can’t just drink beer and eat Belgian fries. Well, you can, but not if you’re planning on living very long. You need something to go with it, and what could be a more fitting – and filling - tribute to the spiritual home of great beer, than a classic Carbonnade - Carbo to those in the know.
600ml Belgian Beer – Dark Abbaye Ale like Chimay Bleue, Leffe or Abbaye des Rocs
1.5kg stewing beef - shin, bourguignon, stewing steak – you don’t want it too lean
2 Tablespoon (Tbsp) oil
2 Tbsp plain flour
2 garlic cloves (the little individual ones, not the whole big ‘bulb’)
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp plain flour
2-3 tbsp olive oil
250g smoky back bacon
3 carrots – cut in large coins
2 onions - chopped
1 tbsp tomato purée
4 Tbsp soy sauce
Sprig of thyme
1 generous teaspoon of butter
Note: if you’ve got a slow-cooker (crockpot), you’ll need to give the recipe up to 6 hours to cook, but boy is it worth it! The longer you take over this recipe, the better it will be…
In a large bowl, marinate the beef overnight with your chosen Belgian Dark Ale, Tiple or Quadruple, garlic and bay leaves. Don’t bother chopping or crushing the garlic, just whack them with the bottom of a saucepan and discard the papery skins. The next day – preferably in the morning, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time for this recipe - lift out the beef with a slotted spoon and keep the beer to one side to use later. Cut the beery beef into cubes the length of your thumb, then dust with the flour.
Heat the oil in a large casserole cooking pot (don’t let the oil get so hot it starts smoking), then fry the beef in a few batches until brown. If it sticks, add some more oil, but don’t worry, the beer will clean the sticky ‘gribbly bits’ off the bottom of the pan. Anyway, they’re just extra flavour.
Slice the smoky bacon in to small pieces then add to the pan. Once the bacon is golden-brown, lower the heat, toss in the chopped onions and fry until translucent. Finally, add the carrots, put the lid on the pan and let them sweat for 5 minutes.
Turn up the heat again, then add the beer you marinated the beef in, as well as the soy sauce and tomato purée. This will ‘deglaze’ the pan (clean off any tasty singed bits stuck to the bottom). Finally, chuck in the Speculoos biscuits. It might sound weird, but the mix of sweet and savoury is to die for!
If you are using a crockpot, let the beer get properly hot, then transfer all the ingredients to your crockpot and set it to ‘Hot’. Now just sit back and salivate for 3 hours or until the meat is tender. Depending on the cut of meat, steak for example, you might find your Carbonnade is cooked quicker. If you use shin, then you’ll need the full 3 hours. If you’ve got a crockpot, then it’s going to take 6 hours, but the end result is well worth the wait!
When your beef is falling apart, and the fat has turned to jelly, stir in the butter to make the sauce really glossy, then season with freshly ground black pepper. You can add a drop more soy sauce if it needs a little salt.
Serve with fresh frites or crusty fresh bread – rye, wholemeal or sourdough, it’s all good - and a green salad (or some parsley on top if you’re a salad-dodger). Now open a suitably robust Belgian Beer – Paix Dieu, Bon Secours, Tripel Karmeliet or Gouden Carolus, and watch as your shirt-buttons ping across the room…