Carbonade flamande

preparation time: 45 minutes
simmering time: 2.5-3 hours
emergency contact: stéphane

adding the pain d'épice to the carbonade

Carbonade flamande is a Belgian dish of beef stewed in beer and flavoured with pain d’épice, a type of spiced honey cake similar to, but not quite as sweet as, gingerbread. It is sort of the boeuf bourgignon of the north. Traditionally, carbonade flamande is made with a bière de garde or “keeping beer” (like Jenlain Ambrée), a style of beer characterized by medium hops and a toasted malt aroma. Alternatives like Abbey Ale made by Ommegang or Chimay are perhaps easier to find. Most recipes call for saindoux (pork fat), which has been replaced here with bacon.

stewing beef – 1.5 kg cut into large cubes *
bacon – 4 thick slices (substitute 2 pats of butter)
onion – 2 medium, diced
celery – some stalks, diced (optional)
shallots – 5, diced
garlic – 1 head, cloves separated (optional)
flour – 1 Tbsp
red wine vinegar – 4 Tbsp
brandy – a few splashes (optional)
beer – 1 large bottle 750 mL
beef or veal stock – 250 mL
cassonade – 1 Tbsp (substitute brown sugar)
pain d’épice – 8 slices (substitute a not-too-sweet gingerbread)
Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
orange peel, blanched (optional)

* Note: French recipes typically call for a combination of jumeau, macreuse and gîte. North American cuts are slightly different, but both the first two are from the shoulder region, so some part of the chuck (there is a British cut called the shoulder clod that could be appropriate). Gîte seems to be shin meat from the foreshank. Short ribs also work really well.

Preheat oven to 155C/310F.

Cut bacon into pieces and brown in a Dutch oven or heavy pot. In small batches, brown the cubed stewing beef on all sides over medium heat, seasoning with a little salt and pepper.

Add the onions, shallots and celery to the pot with a little olive oil or butter, a pinch of salt, and the flour. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cassonade. Deglaze with vinegar and brandy. Return the bacon and beef to the pot. Add the beer and stock, stir and bring to a simmer.

Once simmering, add the thyme, laurel and orange peel. Spread a generous spoonful of mustard on each slice of pain d’épice and lay on top of the stew. As the stew cooks, the pain d’épice will dissolve into it. Put the pot in the oven and cook for 2.5 to 3 hours until the beef is very tender. (You may prepare the stew a day ahead of time up to this point; the next day, warm it up slowly and then continue.)

Remove the lid and continue cooking, in the oven or on low heat on the stovetop, for another half hour until the liquid has thickened into a velvety sauce. Season to taste and serve with fries or roasted potatoes, and buttered cabbage or salad.

Serves 4 with some leftovers or 6 light eaters.

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