This Flemish dish of beef and onions braised in beer is just the thing to welcome the first frost of the year. Hearty with subtle sweet, sour, and bitter notes it goes wonderfully with buttered noodles or potatoes and glass of beer. Make plenty because it gets better with each reheating. Be sure to allow at least an hour to prepare the ingredients before the carbonnade goes into the oven because much of its special flavor is developed during the preliminary browning of the meat and onions. Also, since the meat needs to be browned at high temperature, I prefer using an unlined cast iron Dutch oven for carbonnade rather than risk damaging my enameled one.
A note on the beer: a Belgian pale ale would be the best choice for this Flemish dish but any pale to medium ale will work. I used Saranac English Pale Ale which has a more pronounced hop flavor and is thus a bit bitterer. Personally, I like my carbonnade slightly bitter but you may wish to experiment with the amount of sugar you add.
3½ pounds beef rump or round cut into 1-inch cubes
Neutral cooking oil such as Canola oil
1½ pounds yellow onions sliced ¼-inch thick
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp. flour (I use rice flour to avoid gluten)
2 cups brown stock or beef broth
1 12-ounce bottle of beer or ale
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley or 1 tsp. dried
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1½ Tbsp. arrowroot or cornstarch
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
Salt to taste
Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Heat 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. oil in the Dutch oven over high heat. When the fat is just smoking put in a layer of beef cubes avoiding crowding. Do not stir the meat but turn it with tongs to brown well on all sides. The meat should be well caramelized. Remove to a bowl. Repeat until all the meat is done, adding oil and butter to the pan as needed.
Preheat the oven to 325° (300° for convection). Reduce the heat under the Dutch oven to medium, add another tablespoon of butter, and cook the onions, stirring regularly, until soft and medium brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes or until browned. Be careful not to let the flour burn. Pour in 1 cup of stock and scrape up any bits sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Return the beef and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl to the Dutch oven. Pour in the beer and enough additional stock to just barely cover the meat. Add the herbs and generous grind of black pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and braise in the oven for 2 hours, stirring from time to time. After one hour remove the cover to let the broth concentrate.
Place the Dutch oven on the top of the stove and allow to sit for few minutes, then defat by skimming the surface of the stew with a ladle or large spoon putting that liquid in a bowl or defatting pitcher. When the fat has risen to the surface, skim it off and discard it, returning the remaining broth to the pot. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the brown sugar. Mix the arrowroot or cornstarch with the vinegar, add to the pot, and bring to a boil to thicken. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with buttered noodles or parsley potatoes, a green salad, and a glass of the same beer you used in the stew.
Makes about 6 servings.