Carbonade flamande is a classic Belgian stew. I must admit that, even though I’ve been to Belgium, I didn’t have carbonade flamande while there – I was too busy eating all the mussels in Brussels! But I saw the dish in an episode of Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations and just had to try it! I did a test run a couple months ago, and have tweaked the recipe slightly. Try it out some time – you just might like it!
1-2 DAYS BEFORE
The first thing we need is… gingerbread. Yes, gingerbread. Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense later. If you’re really motivated, you can google “Belgian grandma gingerbread recipe” and make it from scratch. If you’re not quite up for that, you can call around to local bakeries and see if they have any. But if you’re lazy like me, you can just go to your local grocery store and pick up a box of Betty Crocker gingerbread mix:
It couldn’t be easier: just dump the mix into a large bowl, add one egg and 1½ cups water, and stir with a whisk for a couple minutes until the batter is smooth. Then pour into a greased 8×8″ glass pan and bake for around 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean:
Let the gingerbread cool completely, then cover with aluminum foil.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
The night before you want to make the stew, you need to make the marinade:
You can be super lazy and buy 3 pounds of stew meat, but for best results use 3 pounds of chuck roast instead. Cut a block off the roast, cut the block into cubes, then cut those cubes into bite-size cubes, trimming any excess fat as you go.
See the red plastic container in the above picture? Yeah, that wasn’t big enough for the meat and marinade, so I put the beef cubes in a gallon-size pitcher, along with 3 crushed cloves of garlic, two bay leaves and two 11.2 oz. bottles of Belgian ale. I used Gauloise, a blonde ale available at my local Lidl. It’s not the best Belgian beer you’ve ever tasted, but at $6.49 for a four-pack you can’t go wrong. Of course, if you have a preferred brand, you can use that… especially a sour Belgian ale, which is the traditional beer for this dish.
Put the meat + marinade in your fridge until the next day. The pitcher actually worked out really well – it was roomy, and the waterproof seal made it easy to turn the pitcher over and mix everything up, which is something you should do a couple times while marinating.
IT’S STEW TIME!
The next day, drain the beef but keep the marinade! Seriously, the liquid is important, so don’t throw it out:
Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a French oven and brown the beef in small batches:
Why small batches? We want to fry the beef, so that it’s golden brown and delicious. If we threw all the beef into the pan at once, it would steam instead of fry, and we don’t want that. So take your time and do it right!
While the beef is cooking, stack 4 slices of bacon on top of each other, then cut into pieces. Also, slice three medium to large onions.
I totally spaced on taking pictures here, but once the beef is done, set it aside and drain any water in the pan. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, then remove. Leaving the bacon grease in the pan, cook the onions for about 10 minutes, until decently caramelized.
Once the onions turn brown and delicious, add 1½ cups of beef broth to the pan and scrape off the fond – the dark brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan – with a wooden spoon. When you’re done with that, you should have something like this:
It’s finally starting to come together! Add the marinade, beef and bacon to the pot, along with several springs of thyme:
Now… we could cook this on the stovetop for a couple hours. But I don’t wanna do that. The whole point of using a French oven is so that we could put this in the oven. So do that: put the lid on your French oven and cook the stew in your oven for around an hour at 325F. It should look like this:
So… remember the gingerbread? If you used an 8×8″ pan, cut the gingerbread in half, then cut it in half again, then turn each piece on its side and cut those in half. What we’re aiming for is four pieces of gingerbread, each about the size of a slice of bread. Put a total of two or three heaping tablespoons of real French Dijon mustard (don’t cheap out now!) on some of the slices… or divide it between all the slices, it doesn’t really matter. Just spread the mustard on the bread, as if you were making a sandwich.
Add a tablespoon of packed dark brown sugar to the stew along with a handful of parsley and stir well. Then add the gingerbread slices, mustard side down:
Put the lid back on and return to the oven for another hour, stirring the stew every so often. You’ll end up with something like this:
I’ll grant that it doesn’t photograph well, and might not look that appealing:
But trust me, it’s damn tasty! The beef was outrageously tender without being “mushy”, and there’s just something about the interplay between the ale and the gingerbread that’s just soooooo goood! You might find the sweetness from the gingerbread a bit too much – if so, some salt & pepper should fix that right up.
Carbonade flamande is traditionally served in a bowl with Belgian-style fries or roasted potatoes on the side. But there’s nothing stopping you from serving this over rice or egg noodles if you want.