Saturday, December 9, 2017

Belgian Ale, Beef and Onion Stew

This dish is considered the national dish of Belgium. What's really odd to me, is that they always serve the stew with French fries. But Belgium is also credited with the creation of French fries, so I guess you should serve your two most popular culinary gifts to the world along side of each other.

This dish is also considered the national dish of France. In France it is known as Carbonnade Flamande....and they, too, serve it with French fries. As a life-long Minnesotan who has endured 65 years of arctic winters, I'm of the firm belief that you serve stew in a big soup bowl with a warm loaf of crusty French bread.

The dish is quite simple. The basics are ale, beef, onions and broth. The key ingredient here is the ale....and it must be Belgian. Fortunately, Belgium is considered the ale capital of the world and they brew over 1100 different versions there. You want a dark, very strong ale for your stew. My two favorites for this recipe are Trappistes Rochfert 8  and Chimay Grande Reserve.

This recipe is ridiculously easy to make. Brown the beef...cook the onions....then add the ale and broths. But there is one thing that I am fanatical about when I make stew. I want the sauce in my stew to be substantial. If it's watery, it's soup...not stew. So I always use a starch to thicken my stews. Not flour or cornstarch...because that takes chemistry. I cheat and pour in potato buds, 3 tablespoons at a time, until I get that thick, stew consistency I like. No chemistry. No cold water. Just old fashioned potato buds. How's that for simple?

3-1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1" cubes
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4" thick
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of flour
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup beef broth
12 ounces Belgian dark ale
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Potato buds

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 300 degrees. Dry beef thoroughly with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke; add about one-third of beef to pot. Cook without moving pieces until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes; using tongs, turn each piece and continue cooking until second side is well browned, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer browned beef to medium bowl. Repeat with additional 2 teaspoons oil and half of remaining beef. (If drippings in bottom of pot are very dark, add about 1/2 cup of above-listed chicken or beef broth and scrape pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; pour liquid into bowl with browned beef, then proceed.) Repeat once more with 2 teaspoons oil and remaining beef. 
  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty Dutch oven; reduce heat to medium-low. Add onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and tomato paste; cook, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until onions have released some moisture, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and stir until onions are evenly coated and flour is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in broths, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits; stir in ale, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, browned beef with any accumulated juices, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to full simmer, stirring occasionally; cover partially, then place pot in oven. Cook for 2 hours.
  3. Discard bay leaves. Thicken sauce, if desired, with potato buds. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Wine pairing: This is hearty stew with big flavor. You're going to need the same in a big red wine. The list could be endless here: Barolo, Amarone, Bordeaux ...but to keep in simple I would opt for a big Syrah. Tops on my list would be a Plumpjack Syrah....94 points and $60 a bottle. If you still have a lot of presents to buy, get a McManis Petite Sirah. You just might pick it over the Plumpjack in a blind taste test and it will only set you back $8.99.

Me and Goldie, 1956.

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