When I think about alcohol in main dishes, wine usually comes first to my mind. But beer is an equally delightful way to go, especially in a Belgian dish known as Carbonnade, or beef and beer stew.
A simple dish, peasant-food if you will, beef and beer stew is perfect on a cold night. Paired with a salad, a loaf of crusty bread, red cabbage and a tall glass of beer, Carbonnade is easy to prepare on the stove-top, in the oven, or in a slow cooker.
Upon discovering that this month’s Progressive Eats theme would be boozy cooking, Carbonnade immediately sprang to mind. But how to recreate it?
Julia Child’s version from Mastering the Art of French Cooking was my introduction to Carbonnade. I enjoy it, but had always felt the recipe was missing something. I started to look online and in my many cookbooks for inspiration, but the array of choices was dizzying. Who knew that beef and beer stew could have so many variations?
Luckily, we happened to go to a wonderful Washington DC Belgian restaurant, Belga Cafe, a few weeks ago. When I saw Carbonnade on the menu, of course I ordered it. This Carbonnade did not disappoint. Timidly, I asked the server if she would get me the recipe from Belga’s chef. Remembering what happened last time I asked for a recipe, I kept my expectations in check.
She went to the kitchen and returned, smiling, with a list of ingredients handwritten on the back of a ripped-off piece of a menu. It was definitely a good news/bad news situation. The good news was that at least now I knew the ingredients the chef used. The bad news was that I had to figure out all the proportions and most of the directions on my own.
Even the bad news turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As I looked through other recipes with the chef’s ingredient list, I began to develop my own take on this venerable dish.
I kept to the ingredient list of the Belga Cafe version, except that I added some bacon and a bit of flour. My proportions provide four generous servings of meat. If you supplement the stew with lots of vegetables, the recipe will serve six.
Tips for Making Belgian Beef and Beer Stew
- The Beef – Although you may be attracted to leaner meat, choose a cut such as chuck, with fat marbled through. The fat keeps the meat tender during the long, slow cooking. The chunks should be big, but not mammoth. Pre-cut stew meat cubes work if the pieces are relatively uniform. I floured the cubes, which gives them a nice crust, but that step is optional.
- The Beer – Dark beer is essential, preferably Belgian brown beer. I used Leffe brown ale, which has a nice, slightly sweet taste. Do not use light beer. The beer bubbles like a potion when you add it. Go ahead and say an incantation as it does its magic. Feel free to sip as you cook, but don’t shortchange the Carbonnade – open another bottle!
- Onions – This recipe gets them caramelized, but with a shorter cooking time than the “old school” method. Of course, if you keep caramelized onions on hand in the refrigerator, you can skip this step and simply add the ones you’ve already made.
- Mustard – This ingredient, missing from Julia Child’s recipe, gives the stew a spicy, distinctive taste. I used a combination of Dijon and coarse ground “country” mustard. Either or both work. American, yellow mustard is a “no go” here. It doesn’t have the same depth of flavor.
- Bread – I used sweet brown bread. Topped with mustard, it sits on top of the stew as it cooks and slowly dissolves into the sauce. If you use white bread (a chewy artisan type, not packaged sandwich bread), add a bit of brown sugar. A baguette has too much crust to work well here.
- Bacon – Once I saw this version of Carbonnade, I just had to add bacon, however it wasn’t in the Belga Cafe list of ingredients. If you omit bacon, you may want to add a bit more salt to the sauce at the end of cooking.
- Cooking. Long and slow no matter which way you go – stovetop, oven or slow cooker.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
We have a core group of 12 bloggers, but we will always need substitutes and if there is enough interest would consider additional groups. To see our upcoming themes and how you can participate, please check out the schedule at Creative Culinary or contact Barb for more information.
- Carbonnade Beef and Beer Stew from Mother Would Know
- One Hour Ham and White Bean Soup from Miss in the Kitchen
- Rum Jerk Chicken from Stetted
- Peruvian Pisco Roast Chicken from The Heritage Cook
- Red Wine and Pork Pasta Sauce Food Hunter’s Guide
- Sous Vide Chinese Drunken Wine Chicken from Jeanette’s Healthy Living
- Guiness Chocolate Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Frosting from Creative Culinary
- Irish Cream Pots de Creme from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter Ice Cream Sauce from Pastry Chef Online