Carbonnade. I think it’s safe to say that dish could represent part of the magic of our honeymoon. We went to Germany and Belgium because we wanted to travel, there were beautiful things to see–and, let’s be honest, where else do you go if you want some of the best beer in the world? In addition to trying amazing new beers, we spend our time sampling local cuisine. This was fun in Munich, and we had some good dishes there, but the food in Belgium was some of the best food I’ve ever had. I’ve heard it said that Belgian cuisine combines the French cuisine with German portion sizes–and that sounds about right! We had street-food waffles, some of the best frites in the city, waterzooi (a local cream-based chicken soup), and carbonnade.
Sadly, I have no pictures of our meals–I don’t even really have decent pictures of the restaurants themselves, mostly because a number of the places we ate in Belgium weren’t showy, fancy places. They were low-key, but they were fantastic. And through the magic of the internet, I’ve found a few to show you. Here’s a link to an article talking about two of the best places we ate on our honeymoon–possibly two of my favorite places ever: Restobières and In’t Spinnekopke. Chris had his beef carbonnade at Restobières, which was recommended to us by our bike-tour guide that morning. He had just been there with his family and thought we would enjoy it–so we sought it out, and we loved it! The food was fantastic, and the owner even made us specific beer recommendations to go with our meals. (Dinner the next night, I believe, was In’t Spinnekopke, another place using beer in their cuisine, and I had the most amazing waterzooi. But as this post is about carbonnade, I won’t wax poetic about that dish. 🙂 )
The following day we toured around Ghent and just by chance happened on Bierbrasserie Cambrinus–it’s gotten some flack online for being set up more like a British pub than a true Belgian dining experience, but we still found the food to be very good and the beer menu to be, well, incredible. (Check out that Westvleteren on the beer menu! Finding and sampling the rarest beer in the world? Check.) But, to refocus on the food, I had their carbonnade and it was delightful–especially with Belgian frites as a side!
So when Chris pulled out the Belgian cookbook two weekends ago and said he wanted to try something new, I knew exactly what I wanted to make. And it was fantastic! (The pictures don’t nearly do it justice.) There was a little bit of sharpness from the bread and mustard, but still some sweetness from the beer. The sauce was rich and thick, and the meat was tender overall. Maybe not quite as good as we remember, but pretty darned good for recreating it in our own home. And until we can get back to Belgium to eat the real thing again, I think this will have to do! I know I don’t often share recipes from cookbooks, but this one is so good, I’ve got to.
Flemish-Style Beef Stew
Stoofvlees/Carbonnades à la Flamande
from The Food and Cooking of Belgium
1 1/4 lb stewing beef or chuck steak, cubed
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour for dusting
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
11 1/2 fl. oz. bottle dark Belgian beer, such as Chimay (we used St. Bernardus Prior 8.)
Bouquet garni (6 parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, and 2-3 sprigs of thyme tied together with twine)
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp soft light brown sugar
2 slices rustic bread–white, dark brown, or spice cake
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and ground pepper
1. Generously season the beef cubes with salt and pepper, then coat them in the flour.
2. Heat a large, heavy frying pan that has a tight-fitting lid. Melt the butter and oil over medium to high heat. Add the cubed beef in batches and brown over fairly high heat for about 4 minutes to seal. As each batch browns, remove from pan and place on a plate.
3. Add the onion to the fat remaining in the pan and cook gently for 6-8 minutes, until translucent, then add garlic and fry for 3 minutes more.
4. Return the meat to the frying pan and stir well to combine with the onions.
5. Pour in the beer and bring the mixture to just below boiling point. Add the bouquet garni, vinegar, and brown sugar. Cover the pan, reduce the heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until meat has become tender.
6. Spread the bread thickly with mustard and place it on top of the stew, mustard-side down. Replace the lid and simmer the stew for 20-30 minutes more, stirring occasionally until the meat in very tender. The bread will absorb some of the pan juices and dissolve to thicken the stew.
7. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Remove the bouquet garni and stir in the parsley. Serve with potatoes, frites, or rustic bread.