Sunday, 15 February 2009

Vlaamse stoofkarbonaden : Beer, Beef, Belgium.

I promised a while ago to present a traditional dish from my country that could be cooked abroad. Here it is.

Foreign dishes can be hard to cook for many reasons : unfamiliar , hard to get ingredients , unfamiliar cooking techniques and cooking utensils.

This very traditional Flemish recipe should be do-able for most people.

Basically it's a very hearty stew of beef and onions in beer.

The finished dish can be frozen in portions for later, reheated quite simply (microwave !) and you can eat it with cooked or pureed potatoes or French fries or slices of brown bread.
I find it goes very well with Japanese style steamed rice ( click photo to see a larger version).

No vegetables ? If you eat it after a vegetable soup like leek or spinach, you'll have a very complete and balanced meal.

The following ingredients are for 4 servings (in Belgium! Could serve 5 or 6 in other countries ))

1 kg of lean unsalted cooking meat ( this beef  is sold in Belgium mostly precut in cubes and made from the brisket or neck : it's a tough but very nutritious and lean meat, that needs long slow cooking to get tender )
3 medium sized onions
1 heaped tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of plain flour
1 large bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
100 grams of unsalted butter
1/2 liter of good brown beer
1 good slice of bread
1 tablespoon of mustard (Dijon or another hearty one)

Large pot with lid ( to cook )
Large pot ( to hold the browned meat )

3 hours of your time ( although 2,5 of those are spent letting the food simmer , so you can spend them doing other stuff around the kitchen )

Where are the brisket and the neck ? See below

I use these red onions because they've got a good flavor. Yellow ones are good too, but don't use the very large ones ( they're too weak and sweet tasting ).

Cut the beef in medium sized cubes (about 3 - 4 cm ).
Melt the butter in the large pot on a medium fire ( electric setting 6-7 out of 12)

(Here I use 1 and a half tablespoon of olive oil instead of butter because
a) I almost never use butter in the kitchen
b) I am Flemish , therefore I am allowed to (haha)
c) it doesn't change the flavour of this dish
d) olive oil is healthier
e) I made this on a Sunday and couldn't get butter from the shops

Add the beef cubes and brown them lightly on all sides ( moisture comes out from the cubes : keep stirring to let most of it evaporate ). Use a large pot ! This one's 27 cm across.
If you have a smaller pot or larger amounts of beef , brown the beef cubes in portions, otherwise the pan will not get hot enough and your beef will not get browned , but start to cook. The browning is important for the taste.

Tip the browned cubes of meat in a dish and sprinkle the flour over them ( you could also do this after they go back into the pot later)
Turn the heat down a bit and put the onions in the pot.
Keep stirring them till nearly glazed in the fat left behind by the meat. Add a little butter or oil if needed.

Sprinkle the brown sugar over them and stir for a minute to color the onions.

See how nice and brown the onions have become ?

Add the spoon of vinegar and stir.
Put the beef back in the pot and add your beer. It will foam a lot when you pour it in but that's OK.

Use a Belgian brown beer , NO OTHER BEER will do !

Seriously, use a good tasting brown beer . Don't use a low alcohol table beer : too sweet. Don't worry about the alcohol : at the end it will all be gone. Kids can eat this dish : they'll love it.

Season with five to six turns on your pepper mill and a few pinches of salt. Put in the thyme and the bay leaf. The beer should cover most of the meat.

Turn down the heat ( electric setting 3 out of 12) , put the lid on and let simmer quietly for an hour.
After that , the smell when you lift the lid will be tantalizing. Trust me it will get even better.
Don't worry that the meat is still very tough at this point : you're only halfway.
Spread the tablespoon of mustard ( use Dijon or another hearty mustard ) on your slice of bread and put it on top of the meat with the mustard side down.
(DO USE a self baked full grain brown bread like me ! White bread is for WIMPS ! And toothless old people !)

The bread will bind the sauce , the mustard aids in flavoring and tenderizing the meat.
Since it completely dissolves , you can use white or brown.

I keep the heat fairly low and add a little beer ( a few tablespoons ) at this point if I find it's becoming a bit dry.
Later on , use water or the beer taste will be too obvious.
Check from time to time and stir.
Make sure it doesn't get too dry and starts burning , which can happen because there's now flour from the bread in the stew : burning would ruin the dish.

It'll take from 1 to 1,5 hours till it's ready.

You can tell by seeing how tender the meat has become : it should come apart easily ( see photo ) but not completely fall apart : you're not making a sauce. Taste it and let it stew longer if you feel it's not tender enough.
You can see in this picture that it's still quite moist.

I like serving this dish with the same beer I've cooked it with.

Have fun and let me know how it went !

(I've found many variations of this dish on the web ( especially on Dutch sites) . FORGET about those , they're all FAKES ! This is the ONLY REAL ONE ;)
Actually, as with most traditional dishes , the recipe varies slightly in several parts of the country and from cookbook to cookbook.
This recipe comes from an out of print cookbook from 1984 (no longer available and only printed in Dutch) that compiled 125 original recipes from all over Flanders ( the Flemish speaking part of Belgium).
Tip : use a flat bladed wooden spoon for this kind of dishes : it's a lot better to stir food that's sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can use the high tech non stick one ( I have both ) but I can buy ten of the wooden ones for the price of the other ;)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! It's quite new to me to add beer and a slice of bread with mustard on!
First, the dish looked like beef stroganoff but I cannot imagine how it'd taste with beer.
Very interesting! :)

Walter said...

thanks for your comment.
You can't taste the beer in the finished dish, because it simmers for such a long time. It does give the dish a semi sweet taste, with a beefy taste. Quite different.
Boeuf Stroganoff is made with strips of beef from tenderloin, which cooks very quickly. Very different.
This is a 'poor' people's dish, which manages to make a tasty dish from a tough and much cheaper piece of meat.
I don't think you could make with a pilsener type of beer ( yellow lager ). Do you have brown beers in Japan ?
Dishes with beer are not uncommon here, just like cooking with sake in Japan.
Tell you what : when (whenever) I finally go to Japan , I'll cook it for you ! OK ?

Anonymous said...

Uh huh! Beef Stroganoff is then so different!
I think we can get brown beers in Japan, because there are many kinds of imported beers available if we choose high class super markets.

Oh, that sounds so sweet. Then please teach me how to cook it when you come to Japan. :)
I wonder if I can teach you any Japanese cuisine in return, because you already know it and may perfome better than I do. :P

Anonymous said...

Walter, goe gedoan joeng!
Ik heb juist jouw recept gevolgd in Illinois, USA.
This is the right way to make flemish karbonaden :)
The French like to think you make it with "peperkoek" (spiced bread) instead of brown farm bread. That's not how we made when I was a kid in Antwerp. The brown bread with the mustard is the way to go. We did have a slightly different approach to adding some sweet: instead of the brown sugar my family added a cube or two of very dark chocolate. I have made it this way before, but you risk overdoing it and getting some more of a Mexican Mole, rather than the Flemish karbonaden. Still, if you can refrain yourself from going overboard on the chocolate, and you have access to some real "fondant" (dark), that may be a fun thing to try at some point.
Allé, smakelijk en hartelijk bedankt voor de mooie opschrijving (n.b. I think you do not list the "spoon of vinegar" in the ingredients and I wasn't sure if it was a tea or table spoon--went easy on it to not overdo it.
Keep up the cool blog!