If I were asked to choose between the traditional French stew Boeuf à la Bourguignonne (Beef Bourguignon or Beef Burgundy) containing cubed beef, mushrooms, onions, and Burgundy wine, or Carbonnade à la Flamande, the traditional Belgian sweet-sour beef and onion stew made with beer, and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, and mustard, I would be hard pressed to do so. Both are lovely and so perfect for this time of year.
But unlike Beef Bourguignon, which was made popular in America by Julia Child, Carbonnade is not as well known. So I plan to right that wrong immediately by posting this recipe. (If only Agatha Christie would have had the forethought to make Carbonnade Hercule Poirot’s favorite food, we could all have been enjoying this amazing stew for years. Plus, I wouldn’t have to be going to all the trouble of revealing the dishes merits. Poor planning on Agatha’s part, I must say!)
Regardless, it is time you learned about this easy to prepare and delicious braised stew. And if you have been fixing Carbonnade for years, please excuse me for preaching to the choir. But having directed a choir for many years, it’s just hard for me to stop instructing!
- ½ lb. lean bacon, cut into small pieces
- 1 ½ lbs. boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- bacon fat or butter, if necessary
- 2 lg. yellow onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, cut into ¼-inch rounds
- 3 T. all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ c. beef broth
- 12-oz. bottle beer (see note about beer below)
- 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or ¾ tsp. dried
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. whole grain mustard
- 1 T. brown sugar
- chopped parsley, opt.
Fry the bacon until crisp in a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven. Remove bacon to a medium sized bowl and set aside. Do not remove the bacon grease from the pan. Pat beef cubes dry with paper towels; season well with salt and pepper. Place pan with bacon grease over medium-high heat. Brown the meat for about 5-6 minutes on each side. Do not stir while the meat is browning. Add additional bacon fat or butter as needed to brown all the meat. Transfer browned beef to bowl containing the cooked bacon; set aside. Reduce heat to medium. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until onions are caramelized and a rich dark brown, about 30 minutes. Add carrots and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add flour and stir until onions and carrots are evenly coated and flour is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits. Add the beer, thyme, bay leaves, reserved bacon and browned beef and accumulated juices, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a full simmer. Cover pan and place in a pre-heated 325 degree oven and braise for about 2 hours or until beef is fork tender. Stir about half way through the cooking time, scraping up anything that is sticking to the bottom of the pan. (If the stew seems too thick, add about ¼ cup water.) About half an hour before the stew finishes cooking, add the mustard and brown sugar and remove the bay leaves. When the meat is fork tender, remove from oven and adjust seasonings. Serve over Creamy Mashed Potatoes (see recipe below) or cooked pasta. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Note about beer: I personally do not like a bitter beer in this recipe. I feel it detracts unfavorably from the rich lovely flavor created by the combination of ingredients. I use Alaskan Amber, but any dark, rich beer will do. Beers to stay away from are those that have a bitter taste, i.e. IPA (India Pale Ale) or ESB (Extra Special Bitter).
CREAMY MASHED POTATOES
- 2 very large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into about 2-inch pieces
- kosher salt
- 6 T. butter, room temperature
- freshly ground black pepper
Place the potatoes and about a tablespoon of salt in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are super tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. Pour back into pan and set on stove using lowest heat setting available. Mash the potatoes and butter together. Add pepper and enough milk to make a creamy, not too stiff mixture. Adjust seasoning. Cover pan, turn off heat and serve immediately. Or, place in oven on low setting until ready to serve.