Or the easiest, tastiest beef stew you’ll ever make.
I don’t think I can continue to call this blog The Famous Belgian in good conscience without posting a proper Belgian classic. One of the big guns. A Grandes Dames of the Belgian culinary oeuvre. So here we go Carbonnades flamandes, Vlaamse Stoverij, Stoofvlees – Flemish Beef Stew to you and I.
This really is one of the simplest, tastiest beef stew recipes you could ever try.
When making this I try not to fuss around with the recipe too much, and keep to the core flavours which are essentially Beef, Beer and Onions.
There are hundreds of recipes out there which will encourage you to add extras to the traditional recipe – things like bacon (Alain Ducasse, I’m looking at you), shallots, garlic, mushrooms etc – if you start going down that route however you may as well carry on all the way to Burgundy, make a Boeuf Bourguignon and be done with it.
Carbonnades flamandes is the Rolling Stones to Boeuf Bourguignon’s Beatles. Scruffier, a bit rougher, but what it lacks in sophistication it makes up with attitude and flavour. In simplicity lies joy.
Acceptable traditional embellishments not included in the recipe below include a small portion of beef offal or a slice or two of mustard smothered pain d’épices. Personally I think the offal, whilst not unpleasant, changes the flavour profile of the dish too much and the pain d’épices makes it too sweet, but feel free to experiment if you wish.
As this dish is so simple I encourage you (even more than usual) to make the effort to buy the best quality ingredients you can. Good beef, good beer and you are 90% of the way to a great dish.
Try and buy a good quality cut of beef in one piece and trim it yourself. I have experimented with beef shin, cheeks and chuck in the past to good results. On this occasion I intended to make this recipe with shin but the butcher had sold out so I opted for chuck and in retrospect I actually think this is now my preferred cut for this dish. Shin adds a wonderful gelatinous quality to many dishes, but I don’t think works as well here, especially if you use the bread, as I have in the recipe below.
As for Beer, well it must be Belgian of course. In this case I used Westmalle Trappist Dubbel, firstly because it seems to be fairly regularly stocked nationwide in Waitrose, so you have at least a chance of finding some in a shop close to you, secondly because it works so very, very well with this dish. If you can’t find any however, any Belgian brown ale will do – blonde is not a suitable replacement. Leffe Brune is probably the most widely available alternative and is perfectly acceptable.
As for sides the traditional accompaniment is of course frites but a flat, wide ribbon pasta like Tagliatelle, Pappardelle or Fettuccine is also common, but if you want mash, stoemp etc go for it.
I normally make this on a Sunday when I have more time on my hands and serve it with home made frites. Then on Monday night after work reheat it gently where it collapses into a more of a ragù type sauce and serve it with pasta.
I have to confess I did betray my Belgian heritage several times in serving this.
Firstly, with huge faff, I made Heston’s triple cooked chips. This was a mistake – great chips though they undoubtedly are, Belgian frites they ain’t (and I slightly over cooked AND over seasoned them, careless).
Secondly I served some rainbow chard sautéed in garlic on the side – in Belgium I think anything more than a purely-for-show salad garnish would be frowned upon.
As always when cooking with Belgian beer remember the one Golden Rule – one for the pot, one for the chef!
Cooking time: 3-4 hours
Serves: 4 portions
1kg Beef chuck (preferably in one piece)
2 x Large onions
2 x 33cl bottles of Westmalle Trappist Dubbel (plus extras to drink with the finished meal)
300ml Beef stock (fresh if possible)
1 Tbsp Olive oil
3 x Sprigs parsley
3 x Sprigs thyme
3 x Bay leaves (Fresh if possible)
(Optional) 1 Slice slightly stale sourdough bread, crusts removed
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp Whole grain mustard
1 Tbsp Sirop de Liège or 1 Tbsp Red currant jelly
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
4 Tbsp Plain flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
900g Arran victory, Bintjes or the one you’ll actually be able to buy – Maris Piper potatoes
Beef dripping (if you are a superhero) or groundnut/grapeseed/vegetable oil for deep frying
Salt and freshly ground pepper
400g Rainbow chard
1 Tbsp Olive oil
2 Cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Carbonnades flamandes:
Trim any sinew or silver skin from your beef and remove any very large chunks of fat – I like to leave a little on the meat though as it helps the flavour.
Cut the trimmed meat into 5cm cubes.
Add the flour and some salt and pepper to a bowl. Add the beef and toss in the seasoned flour.
Peel your onions, halve and slice into half moons, not too thin.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a casserole dish (I used a 20cm Le Creuset which accommodated these ingredients with a little space to spare) over a medium/high heat.
Add the beef in batches (3 or 4) to the casserole dish. Leave each batch to brown well on all sides, don’t poke or play with them too much, you want to leave them so a nice crust forms. Once each batch is browned remove from the casserole and set aside.
The bottom of the casserole will build up a layer of sediment as you do this, don’t worry about that you’ll need it later to flavour and colour the dish.
Once all of the beef is browned turn the heat down to medium and add the onions to the casserole.
The water escaping from from the onions will begin to deglaze the bottom of the pan and give the onions a luscious brown complexion, but don’t be fooled they aren’t ready, you want some proper caramelisation on the onions so don’t stir them too much, they should take 10-15 mins.
Once the onions have good colour return the beef to the casserole, if there is any flour left from dredging the beef add this to the casserole as well, stir well and add both bottles of beer. Allow the beer to come to the boil and begin to deglaze the pan for a few mins, then scrape the bottom of the casserole with a wooden spoon to remove any remaining sediment, add the beef stock and reduce the heat to its lowest setting.
Make a Bouquet Garni from the herbs. I normally do this by placing two overlapping bay leaves on a 20cm piece of string, placing the parsley and thyme on top of these in a tight bundle, followed by the third bay leaf on top. Wind the string around the bundle a couple of times to secure, tie and chop off the excess string. Kind of like this. Add to the pan along with a small pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.
Leave at a gentle simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Stir gently, regularly, this dish has a huge propensity to catch, so do take care. After this time add the vinegar, grain mustard, Sirop de Liège or red currant jelly and stir well.
The next step is optional – I actually normally skip it as I prefer a cleaner, thinner finish, but it is traditional and I think you should try it both ways, so up to you if you do this. If you don’t, add 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard to the casserole anyway and stir well.
Take the sourdough bread and spread both sides liberally with the Dijon mustard. Place on top of the casserole and continue to cook for a further 30 mins.
Most recipes will allege that the bread will have dissolved into the casserole by this point, I normally find it still vaguely intact on a very low simmer so I fish it out with a large spoon with a little of the cooking liquor, blend it and return it to the casserole to thicken the sauce.
Cook for a further 15 mins. Taste. Is the beef tender? If not continue to cook until it is, you want the beef cubes whole but at the point where they will easily surrender into shreds when pressure is applied with the tines of a fork.
The finished sauce should taste gorgeously rich and slightly sweet/sour. Add more sirop/jelly/cider/salt/pepper as appropriate to achieve a pleasing balance.
A Tbsp of Balsamic vinegar is actually a really nice way to finish this dish, just don’t tell a Belgian I said so.
Cover and keep warm.
For the Frites:
For the Rainbow Chard:
For each full leaf of chard run a knife down each side of the central stalk so you end up with a stalk separated from two portions of leaf.
Cut the stalks into thirds, boil for 2 mins. Drain and refresh in very cold water. Set aside
Pile the leaves and roll up into cigar shapes and slice horizontally into 4 strips.
Put a frying pan on a low/medium heat with the olive oil, when it has come to temperature add the garlic, sauté until just beginning to take colour and add the chard stalks and leaves and a small pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Turn the heat to medium and stir well to wilt the chard. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Squeeze over the lemon and remove from the heat.
Plate the chard, frites and finally the Carbonnades in thirds in a warmed bowl, I garnished with a little chopped curly parsley and some mayonnaise which was completely unnecessary but after making Heston’s chips for 3 hours I thought they deserved some extra love, they didn’t – the sauce from the Carbonnades is more than enough.