Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Recipe: Bravo Belgium! - Carbonade flamande, or Belgian-style beef and beer casserole


A pot of carbonade flamanade - Belgian beef and beer casserole.
Flaming tasty - Carbonade flamanade ready to eat.
It’s nearly the middle of March, so as a “foodie” I suppose I really should be clambering to the likes of Edinburgh Farmer’s Market to fill my bags with early spring vegetables in order to cook a recipe that’s both fresh and tasty. Well that’s all well and good in theory, but whilst southern England may have been basking in double digit temperatures last Saturday, in Scotland it certainly didn’t feel very spring-like. Consequently my yearning for comfort food continues, meaning that last weekend I decided to draw inspiration for dinner from the Low Countries – Belgium to be precise.

Softening carrot, onion and celery by frying.
Sweating the veg until soft.
Belgium has a surprisingly varied and rich cuisine, featuring really great meat, fish and vegetable dishes that often have overtones of influence from neighbouring cultures and countries. I’ve heard it joked that Belgium food combines the straightforwardness of the Dutch, the portion control of the Germans, and the cooking skill of the French. We all know that, in terms of food and drink, Belgium is particularly famous for three things: fries (frieten/frites); chocolate; and beer. What might not be so obvious however it that the Belgians have not only mastered the art of producing a fantastic range of excellent beers, but also cooking with beer as well.

Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.
Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.
Ample chunks of shin of beef, combined with complementary vegetables and a few herbs and spices, and simmered slow and long in a bitter-sour-malty beer. This is basically carbonade flamande (or in Flemish, stoverij or stoofvlees, which sounds pretty close to the Scottish “stovies”), often described as Belgium’s “true national dish”. It is a sumptuous casserole where a tough cut of meat softens superbly - through slow cooking – and melds its flavours with the acidic-sweetness of the hoppy beer and aromatic vegetables to produce a rich gravy. It’s both splendid and really simple to prepare.


Chunks of beef frying in a pan.
Beautifully browned beef shin chunks.
Over the last few decades in the UK we have become pretty well accustomed with using wine as an ingredient in our cooking, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yet such culinary influence comes from Southern Europe, and we – like the Belgians, Dutch and Scandinavians – are historically northern European in cultural terms. We share the fact that beer has long been our alcoholic tipple of choice. So why not go a bit Flemish and cook, as well as sup, with this smashing malty-hoppy ingredient?

Serve carbonade flamande with mashed potato, or even better, just-fried frites. Thank you Belgium!

Bubbling beef and beer casserole.
Bubbling beef and beer casserole.
Together with sides, this dish should easily serve four people.

Ingredients
  • 800g of stewing steak – preferably shin of beef – with any excess fat and sinew removed, and cut into 2-3cm chunks.
  • 1 large onion, peeled and medium sliced.
  • 2 large sticks of celery – medium sliced.
  • 1 medium-large carrot, scrubbed and cut in large-ish chunks.
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed.
  • Olive oil for frying.
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh if available.
  • 2 large sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stalks.
  • 2 tablespoons, or so, of plain flour (enough to coat the beef).
  • 1 teaspoon of hot, smoked paprika.
  • 1 teaspoon of redcurrant or cranberry jelly.
  • Around 500 ml of brown Belgian beer (such as Leffe Brune) or a good quality, local, dark, hoppy ale.
  • Salt and pepper.

Preparation and cooking
  1. Preheat your oven to 140 degrees Celsius.
  2. In a medium to large, lidded casserole dish heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat. Add a pinch of salt (this helps stop the onion catching). Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery, stir and fry for five minutes, then add the crushed garlic and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the flour, smoked paprika and a good pinch of salt and pepper to a lidded plastic storage container, big enough to hold the beef chunks, and mix together. Add the beef to the container, securely attach the lid and give a good shake to thoroughly coat the beef with the flour mixture.
  4. Heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and add a good glug of olive oil – about a couple of tablespoons. When the oil is hot, add the floured chunks of beef and brown on all sides. You may need to do this in batches to avoid overfilling the frying pan, in which case the meat will steam instead of sear.
  5. When browned, add the beef to the casserole dish containing the softening vegetables, and stir. Turn up the heat to high and throw in the bay leaves and thyme and then carefully pour in the beer – BE CAREFUL, it will bubble and steam fiercely at first.
  6. Stir in the redcurrant jelly, and allow the ingredients to come to the boil and then simmer for about five minutes to let most of the alcohol from the beer to evaporate.
  7. Cover the casserole dish with its lid then place in the oven for at least three hours, until the meat is so tender it is possible to break up a chunk of the beef with a fork. 
  8. The slow cooking, together with the flour coating on the beef, such have produced a thick beer gravy. However, if you prefer a thicker sauce remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in warmed dish in a low oven, whilst rapidly simmering the gravy until it reaches the desired consistency. Return the beef and vegetables to the gravy, check and adjust the seasoning and serve.

3 comments:

  1. Popped over from Belleau Kitchen to take a peek at your blog - I really like the idea of cooking with beer - I must do more of it.

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  2. One of my favourite recipes and when we drive back to the UK via Bruges, we know a little bistro there that serves a fabulous Carbonade Flamande, although I must say that yours looks extremely tasty! Karen

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  3. Magnolia - thanks for stopping by and I would heartily recommend trying cooking with beer. There is a link in the above post to some other beer-related recipes.

    Karen - I first tried Carbonade in a restaurant in Brussels a few years ago and was immediately hooked. Not sure mine is quite up to the standard of your Bruge bistro, but it is pretty tasty.

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