Belgian Beef Carbonnade

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I really love things that are braised. Tender chunks of meat, rich unctuous sauces, loads of flavor, the ideal comfort food on a cold day. Braising’s dirty little secret is that you really should make it one day in advance and reheat it the next day. It gives the sauce a chance to infuse itself and increase the flavor.

One of my favorite braises is a classic Belgian dish, Beef Carbonnade. It uses an inexpensive cut of meat, a handful of ingredients and very little prep to produce what I think is the perfect example of what beef stew is. It also combines two of my favorite things – meat and beer. The below recipe was originally taken from Cook’s Illustrated and I have made a few modifications, most notably the amount of liquid used in the dish. My biggest problem with the recipe is that there was not enough sauce, so I took care of that. Also, the original recipe calls for equal parts of chicken stock and beef stock. I replaced that with only chicken stock and I think it actually turned out better. Then again, I was using my homemade stock, which is about 1000 times better than anything that you can get in a store.

Serve over rice, potatoes, pasta, frites or just in a bowl with some bread on the side. The leftovers will freeze nicely for 3-6 months.

The Software
3 1/2 pounds blade steaks, 1-inch-thick, trimmed of gristle and fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions (about 3 medium), halved and sliced about 1/4-inch-thick (about 8 cups)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups Belgian brown beer
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, tied with kitchen twine
2 bay leaves

The Recipe
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.
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 stock, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits;
Stir in beer, thyme, bay, browned beef with any accumulated juices.
Increase heat to medium-high and bring to full simmer, stirring occasionally; cover partially, then place pot in oven.
Cook until fork inserted into beef meets little resistance, about 2 – 3 hours.
Discard thyme and bay.
Remove about 2 1/2 cups of the sauce to a saucepan and reduce over medium heat by 1/2.
Add the reduced sauce back to the pot with the beef.
Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste and serve to a grateful public. (Can be cooled and refrigerated in airtight container for up to 4 days; reheat over medium-low heat.)

You can probably use any low hop beer for this recipe, but I prefer to use either the Belgian beer Duval (about $8 for a 750 ML bottle) or the Trader Joe’s Vintage Brown Ale (about $4.50 for a 750 ML bottle). The Belgian beers are malty and sweet and will really enhance the sauce. You won’t use the entire thing, so drink with the meal. I have been contemplating trying this recipe with skipping the searing step for 2/3 of the beef. The meat that is above the liquid will brown during the braise, so it might actually save some time that would be used for searing. I would still want to sear 1/3 of it to build the fond in the bottom of the pan (the browned bits), because there is a ton of flavor in that. The recipe also originally called for 1 teaspoon of cider vinegar. I removed it since I didn’t think it really added anything to the braise.

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