Beer & Beef Stew
Carbonnade of Beef is of French origin but was adopted by the Belgians, so now even the French call it a Flemish beef stew. At first glance, the list of ingredients might seem like a weird combo — a lot of onions, a lot of beer — but whatever you might expect, the stew is delicate and distinctive. A strong dark Belgian beer is an ideal choice for the liquid and of course to drink while eating.
4 lbs. chuck roast, cubed
6 large onions, sliced
4 tbsp. butter, plus more
3 tbsp. AP flour
2 12-oz. bottles of beer
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 thick slices of smoked bacon, such as Nueske's Applewood
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the bacon in a frying pan until medium crisp. Remove the bacon and leave the fat in the pan. You will use this to sear the meat.
In a large pot, slowly sauté the sliced onions in butter. Cook over low to medium heat for about 20 minutes to color lightly.
While the onions are cooking, reheat the frying pan with the bacon fat. When it is almost smoking, start browning the meat a few pieces at a time. Brown the meat on all sides using tongs. When they are done, remove them to a Dutch oven. (The less fat you use the more quickly the meat will brown.)
When the last piece of meat is in the Dutch oven, turn the heat to low and add a little more butter? if needed (to make about 3 tablespoons of fat) and flour. Stir the fat and flour together with a whisk. This is called making a roux. Cook the roux very slowly until it turns darker brown and smells nutty. Now it is ready for the liquid. Pour the beer into the roux and keep whisking until the roux and beer have combined into a smooth sauce. Add vinegar, thyme and bay leaf. Put the meat and onion mixture into the roux and stir with a wooden spoon. The sauce should barely cover the meat.
Cover the Dutch oven and put it into the oven for 2 and a half to 3 hours until the meat is falling apart. When the carbonnade is done, sprinkle the cooked bacon on top. This is delicious served with boiled little potatoes or buttered noodles.
A Note on Slicing Onions…
Slicing six onions takes a little bit of time. For the Dean, it takes even longer because a hands-on task relaxes the brain so creative thoughts spring up. The ideas are ephemeral so one must stop, wash their hands, and write the idea down before it vanishes. The creative brain unlocks when you are busy doing something else and not thinking too hard. And stopping in the middle of what you are doing for a minute or two gives the cooking a better pace. You won’t rush the browning of the meat or melting of the onions.
Six onions seems like a lot of onions but they melt away. If you are new to longer cooking techniques, what happens to six raw sliced onions slowly cooking in butter is sort of a science miracle. They reduce and transform into soft, silken, shreds, and their aromas change from raw and strong to perfume. This is the ancient art of cooking, before your very eyes.