Carbonnade à la Flamande, a specialty of Belgium and northern France, is beef braised with onions and beer and is the last dish featured in my series on French braises. Beef Carbonnade is one of the classics and a recipe for it can be found in almost any French cookbook. For St. Patrick's Day, you can turn it into an Irish stew by braising the beef and onions in Guinness.
Julia Child, in her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, said “Beer is typical for the Belgian braise and gives a quite different character to beef than the red wine of the bourguignon.” And that is very true – the carbonnade is different from beef bourguignon or coq au vin. A carbonnade is best known for its sweet-sour combination of caramelized onions with beer. Personally I found that when comparing the beef carbonnade to the other two dishes, it doesn’t seem to have quite the depth of flavor or earthy richness of the other two French braises.
In fairness to the carbonnade however, it has only three major ingredients – beef, onions, and beer. That’s why we’ve chosen to serve potatoes and carrots alongside. But the biggest difference is that beef bourguignon and coq au vin are wine based, as compared to the beer in the carbonnade.
For the beer we used Hoegaarden (pronounced “who-gar-den”), a Belgian wheat beer with a delicious, refreshing taste. Any dark Belgian-style ale would be a good choice here.
There are probably some purist out there that would disagree with me, but I think Guinness Draught Irish dry stout is also good in a beef carbonnade, which would make it an ideal dish to serve for St. Patrick’s Day. After all, they say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
As tempting as it might sound to cook some vegetables in this, I think it's best to serve them on the side. By doing so you maintain the integrity of this classic dish and don't muddle the flavors of the sweet-sour caramelized onions. Potatoes are definitely an excellent accompaniment. I’ve seen it served over creamy mashed potatoes as well as buttered noodles. We’ve served ours today with boiled potatoes tossed with parley and butter and roasted carrots. Beer of course is the drink of choice with a carbonnade. As with most stews, this dish will taste even better a day or two after it's made.
Beef Carbonnade is definitely one of the classic braises that should not be overlooked.
Carbonnade à la Flamande ~ Belgium Beef & Onions Braised in Beer
Adapted from Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin – serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices, about 3 inches wide
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups thickly sliced onions
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Three 12-ounce cans beer, Guinness for St. Patrick's Day
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Arrowroot or cornstarch slurry if needed for thickening
In an enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Dry the beef well with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Brown the beef in the casserole over moderate heat in batches, turning once, taking care not to crowd the pan or the beef will stew instead of browning. Transfer the beef to a plate and repeat in batches, using more butter & oil if necessary.
Add the onions to the casserole, cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the flour until the onions are well-coated, and then slowly add the beer. Return the meat to the casserole along with any accumulated juices. Add the thyme and bay leaves, cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender, about 2 hours.
At this point, you may refrigerate the carbonnade, when cooled, for several days in the refrigerator. Scrape off any accumulated fat on the top and return to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
Uncover the casserole and transfer the meat to a bowl. Add the vinegar and simmer the sauce over moderate heat until thickened slightly. If necessary, thicken with a slurry using either arrowroot or cornstarch and water. Before serving, taste for seasonings.
This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, the Clever Chick's Blog Hop, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.