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Posts Tagged ‘Carbonnade á la Flamande’

Carbonnades Flamandes

Posted by jwpiper on January 4, 2009

Also known as Carbonnade á la Flamande, this is the Belgian dish which held the most mystique for me. Actually, my history with Carbonnades Flamande is like a condensed version of my refusal to give up belief that there could be a good paella. From the first time I had it during a beach festival with some friends at what I would describe as a fast food restaurant, I knew what it could be. The experience sent me searching with an unwavering commitment to find an excellent example.

One evening, my company’s distributor had me stay out in the middle of nowhere Belgium near his house. I was pretty annoyed since when I’m there, I like to take in as much of the local culture as I can. This place literally had no other buildings near it for at least 1-2km. Since dinner at the hotel would have run me about 50€, my friend Jan took me to a restaurant before he left for home. It was definitely a country restaurant, but had a cozy outdoor seating area and as always plenty of good beer on the menu. I ordered the Carbonnades and was ill-prepared for the flurry of flavors which was to follow. This was what I had been waiting for. When asked what beer they used, the reply was “Trappistenbier,” which if remaining unspecified usually means Westmalle Dubbel in Belgium.

Since then, I’ve had some excellent versions, most notably one made with Drie Fontienen Geueze at one of my favorite Brussels restaurants, In ’t Spinnekopke.

Below is my attempt at reproducing what I experienced in that country restaurant outside of Antwerpen. It is also based on my friend Jan’s family recipe. As mentioned in the Christmas in Belgium post, this turned out very well (that was the second time I made it), but I think it could stand some additional souring elements, whether it come from using a different beer or from the addition of vinegar or increase in lemon juice or red currant jam. It ends up a very rich stew.

Carbonnades Flamandes
aka Carbonade á la Flamande

Ingredients:
2 tbsp butter
5 lbs cubed stewing beef
salt
2-3 strips bacon
2 large yellow onions
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp white flour
4 330ml bottles Westmalle Dubbel
1/4 cup concentrated veal stock
juice of 1/2 large lemon
3 slices of french bread
dijon mustard
5-10 sprigs thyme
2 tsp red currant jam
1 tbsp brown sugar
serves 6

Preparation:
Heat a heavy pot (I used a cast iron dutch oven) on high.
Add butter to melt.
Add beef in batches, searing both sides; sprinkle with salt, and reserve.
Chop the bacon into small pieces.
Add the bacon and render the fat. Reserve when the bacon is crispy, leaving the bacon fat.
Chop the onions somewhat coarsely and add to the pot.
Stir and cook for 10-15 minutes, salting about 5 minutes in. This should remove most of the brown bits from the bottom of the pot and the onions should start becoming translucent.
Stir in the minced garlic cloves and cook for 30 seconds.
Stir in the flour until fully mixed.
Pour in the beer and let simmer.
Add concentrated, unsalted veal stock.
Add lemon juice.
Add beef, bacon, and any rendered juices.
Remove the crust from the bread and spread one side with mustard. Place on top of the stew.
Add thyme sprigs.
Allow to cook on medium heat (low boil) for at least 2 hours until the meat is very tender, stirring every 10 minutes or so to ensure that the bottom does not burn.
Towards the end of cooking, add salt, sugar, and red currant jam to taste.
Remove the thyme stalks.
Add water or continue cooking until the liquid becomes the desired consistency, which should be fairly thick.

Comments:
I cook this on medium heat, uncovered to ensure that the stew would thicken substantially. Alternatively, this could be placed in the oven, covered at 250-300 degrees. This approach may require the addition of more flour or bread to properly thicken the stew.

Traditionally, this is served with pommes frites and mayonnaise one the side. The frites are dipped in the mayonnaise and subsequently into the Carbonnade. The beef is also dipped into the mayonnaise. Not the healthiest meal, but there’s nothing quite like this combination.

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