Belgian Cuisine — Carbonade Flamande

The cuisine of Belgium reflects both its rich agricultural and seafood resources and its close ties with its Western European neighbors, especially France, the Netherlands, and Germany.  Signature Belgian culinary contributions include French Fries (pomme frites locally, which are likely Belgian and not French in origin), over eight hundred varieties of beer, and a tradition of fine chocolates.  The beefy, beer-based stew carbonade flamande (recipe follows) and the creamy fish stew waterzooi are popular Belgian plates, but if there is a Belgian national dish it is probably moules-frites, mussels steamed with wine, onions, and celery and served with fries.

Belgium quick facts:

  • Capital: Brussels
  • Population: 11,035,948 (2012 census)
  • Notable Belgians: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kim Clijsters, Dr. Evil

Clearly, pomme frites are a national obsession in Belgium.  Streetside carts sell various fried meats accompanied by fries and a variety of dipping sauces from curry ketchup to a tomatoey remoulade similar to the fry sauce you might find in the United States.  So prevalent are fries, in fact, that most Belgian homes have a deep fryer in their kitchens.

To further our understanding of Belgian cuisine we have made carbonade flamande (recipe follows), a rich stew of beef, onions, and beer that Angie has dubbed “beef beer-guignon” for its similarity to the French boeuf Bourguignon stew of beef and red wine.

Carbonade Flamande

(adapted from Saveur, October 2012)

SERVES 3 TO 4

  • 1 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1 1/2″ or so pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 2 medium yellow onions, julienned
  • 12 oz. Newcastle Brown Ale or similar
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 Tbs brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs white vinegar
  • parsley and/or chives, for garnish

Note: Traditionally, carbonade is made with a Belgian ale such as Chimay.  Chimay costs around twelve dollars for one bottle.  In their article on carbonade (subscription required), Cooks Illustrated recommends Newcastle as a decent replacement at a reduced cost.

First, the roast was cut into pieces, discarding the larger pieces of fat:

Beefpieces

We put our large Dutch oven on medium heat on the stove and started melting the butter.  Meanwhile, the beef pieces were seasoned with salt and pepper and dredged in flour.  Once the foaminess of the melting butter was starting to subside, half the beef (if you add the beef all at once you can overcrowd the pan and the beef will steam more than it will brown) was put in the pot to brown…

Beefinpot

which took about six minutes to complete per batch:

beefbrowned

The beef was set aside for the time being.  While the beef was browning we prepped the onions:

onions

The onions were sliced thinly in the end-to-end direction:

onionslicing

When the slicing advanced far enough that it began to be cumbersome:

onionpreflop

…the onions were flopped over for continued slicing:

onionpostflop

The end result looked like this:

onionsinhand

After the beef finished browning and was removed from the pot, chopped bacon was added to the beef drippings and sauteed until crisp.  Then it was removed, the heat was turned down to medium-low, and the onions were added to the pot to brown:

onionsinpot

After about twenty minutes the onions had become uniformly golden-brown.  Next, the beer and stock were added and the heat turned up to medium-high until the stew began to simmer:

everythinginpot0min

Next the vinegar and brown sugar were whisked together and added:

vinegartopot

The lid was placed on the Dutch oven and the stew was allowed to slowly simmer on the stove.  After an hour the stew had begun to thicken and gain an attractive sheen:

everythinginpot60min

A half hour later the lid was removed to allow the stew to thicken faster.  After an hour and forty-five minutes of total simmer time the stew looked and smelled too delicious to wait any longer:

everythinginpot105min

Served with egg noodles and braised carrots and garnished with fresh herbs, the carbonade made for an attractive plate:

carbonadeplated

All in all, Belgian cuisine combines German robustness and quantity with some French elegance.  If carbonade is any indicator, our further adventures will be met with great results.

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