Carbonade is a Flemish beef and onion stew famous in Belgium and French Flanders. It is made with beer, thyme, and mustard. Just before serving, a small amount of cider or wine vinegar and brown sugar is added. It is sometimes called Flemish stew.
Unlike French beef stews made with wine, carbonnade relies on the deep, dark flavor of Belgian abbey-style beer. But what really gives carbonnade its distinctive character is the addition of brown sugar and cider vinegar. The sweet-sour combination contrasts nicely with the caramelized onions and rich beer.
The following is my take on the classic recipe.
Before We Begin
First, I advise you to use a beer that you are familiar with. If you do not use a Belgian-style beer. I used a dark IPA, and it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for.
Second, follow the directions, especially step Number Four.
3 pounds lean beef stew meat, cut into approximately 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 slices of bacon, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 large yellow onions sliced about 1/4 inch thick (about 8 cups)
12 ounces dark beer
1 ½ cup beef stock
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crumbled
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 tsp. tarragon
1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
Buttered noodles for serving
- Brown the beef: Pat beef dry with paper towels, season well with salt and pepper. On the stovetop, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot, almost smoking.
Working in batches, brown the meat, without stirring, for about 3 minutes on each side (do not stir, allow the meat to brown nicely).
Transfer the browned beef to a separate bowl.
2. add bacon; cook until its fat renders, about 8 minutes. Add the butter and onions; cook until caramelized, about 30 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and stir until softened. Then add the flour and stir until onions are evenly coated and flour is lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
4. Stir in the broth, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits. Stir in beer, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, and tarragon with the browned beef and any accumulated juices, salt, and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a full simmer. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, let cook for 2-3 hours until beef is fork-tender.
Stir occasionally, scraping up anything that is sticking to the bottom of the pan. (This step is important. I advise you to follow those instructions to the letter. I did not and left quite a crust on the Le Creuset. The next time I will use the oven.)
Alternatively, you can cook it in a 300°F oven for the same amount of time.
About half an hour before it finishes cooking, add the mustard, vinegar, and brown sugar. Adjust seasonings to taste.
5) Discard the bay leaf, and add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
6) Serve over noodles.
Whatever ale you have used in the cooking makes for a great drink accompaniment to the stew.
Traditionally Belgian ale is used. But if you cannot find a Belgian ale or a Belgian-style ale, you can try Newcastle Brown Ale, Anchor Steam, or Ommegang Abbey Ale.
What also makes this stew unique is the sweet and sour flavors. You can use tomato paste or a cup of shredded carrots instead of sugar.
Keep in mind that this stew has humble roots in rural culture. Hence, improvisation is the rule rather than adhering to a strict recipe.
However, the essentials are the beef and onions and the sweet and sour flavors.