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Carbonnade â la Flamande

August 28, 2014

It looks like it’s a TV dinner tonight.

Well, maybe not precisely a TV dinner. Perhaps it’s more of a dinner that was made, catastrophically wrong, on a TV show. At least it wasn’t a cooking show. It was in fact a Britcom and the dish wasn’t more than a comedic sidenote. But could this dish be that difficult to make? Could the exotic sounding name be any indicator of its almost certain complexity? In short, will this be one of those dishes where the first try gets tossed in the trash midway through?

If we examine the name, we discover that it’s Flemish. Flemish stew to be exact. Flemish stew developed in the 14th century. Flemish stew developed in the 14th century to utilize to great effect a certain ingredient which the monks of the time had perfected, that they then sold to travelers to help cover their monestarial overhead. They were Trappist monks. Trappist monks who knew how to brew beer. Belgian-style ale as it’s called now. So stew made with beer and presumably some form of meat. How hard could this really be?

Turns out, it’s not difficult at all. Aside from accidentally cooking it dry, it would be nearly impossible to screw this up irrevocably. Since cooking this stew dry is a possibility, we’ll stick with the stovetop method of simmering this over fairly low heat and checking on it once or possibly twice. While the following would not technically count as screwing up, not using a Belgian-style ale would certainly detract from the authenticity of the finished dish, but we by no means need to use the most expensive Belgian-style ale out there. We are after all stewing meat and onions for a few hours, not drinking this beer, although if you buy a four- or six-pack or a 22-ounce bottle, you can do just that. If you don’t mind that the most expensive ingredient in this dish is the bottle of beer, by all means, use a St. Barnabas Abt 12 or Chimay. But Leffe will work just as well in this stew for a fraction of the cost.

We will however, go slightly off the traditional path with our thickener and spices simply because it’s unlikely that any of us keeps gingerbread on hand. If you have gingerbread, not a cookie, but actual gingerbread, omit the flour and allspice and place a 1-inch thick slice of the bread on the top of the stew with the mustard on top during its long stewing time. The bread will dissolve and help thicken and flavor the stew. For the rest of us, just follow the recipe.

In keeping with tradition, this stew is served over French fries. Homemade would definitely be best, and with it’s long stewing time, you’d certainly have time to fry the potatoes. But if you choose to buy french fries, make sure you look for cut potatoes and not a pressed potato product which many bagged fries are these days. Either fry them, or coat them with cooking spray before baking.

However you do it, “bottoms up, Chug-a-lug.”

Carbonnade â la Flamande

  • 1½ lbs chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 2-inch long pieces
  • 3-4 large spanish onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 32 ounces beef stock or broth
  • 12 ounces Belgian-style ale
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 2-3 tablespoons parsley

Trim the fat and connective tissue from the chuck roast. Cut the larger pieces into 2-inch long pieces. This will stew for a long time and the meat will be very tender. Cutting the pieces too small will result in their disintegration.

In a large, heavy Dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. Cook the meat, in batches if necessary, until it is well browned. Add the onions and cook until they begin to caramelize, stirring frequently. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and onions and stir to coat, cooking the flour for a minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients minus the mustard and parsley. Stir to completely combine. Bring the contents to a gentle simmer, cooking for 3 minutes. Cover very tightly and turn the heat to low. Stew for 2 hours, checking once or twice. If the liquid is evaporating, add additional beef stock and beer.

Stir in the parsley and mustard before serving over a bed of fries.

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