We have the very first gathering of our cookbook club tonight – a real-life club in which we collectively choose a cookbook to cook out of, or a theme to stick to, and everyone makes something and brings it and we eat and laugh and cheers our good fortune that we all get to enjoy each others’ company on an otherwise regular Tuesday night.
Our first theme is family recipes, to celebrate our diverse pasts and presents, to recall where our parents and grandparents were born and raised and what they ate and how they got to be here, and how our families’ daily meals have evolved or stayed the same. (In fact, we started compiling our collective recipes into small eBooks, to raise funds for the UN Refugee Agency.)
I made my grandma’s Belgian beef carbonnade – a Belgian stew in which not-so-tender cuts of beef are braised slowly in stock and beer, creating an intensely flavorful sauce – and the only recipe I remember this particular grandma making. It’s very beefy, devoid of veggies save for onions and garlic, and is traditionally served over buttered egg noodles, although mashed potatoes are delicious too – you just need something to catch all that gravy. Her recipe is written over three (four?) pages in fancy longhand, but it’s really not that complicated – totally worth spending ten minutes browning meat at the stove. After that, the oven does the work.
(This would be divine with a slab of brisket too – just sayin’.)
Beef Carbonnade Flamande
canola or olive oil, for cooking
3-4 slices bacon, chopped
2-3 lb. (1.25 kg) stewing beef, chuck or blade, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, chopped or thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup (ish) beef stock
1 can or bottle heavy ale or dark stout (I used Big Rock Scottish Heavy Ale)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
egg noodles or mashed potatoes, for serving
butter, for serving
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Set a wide pot or braising dish over medium-high heat, add a drizzle of oil and cook the bacon until crisp; transfer to a shallow bowl, leaving the drippings.
Brown the beef in the drippings on all sides, working in batches, sprinkling with salt and pepper in the pan and setting it aside on a plate as it gets browned and crusty on the edges. Add the onion to the pot and cook until golden; add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
Add the beef stock to the pan, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Return the beef to the pot, pour over the beer, stir in the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar and add the sprigs of thyme. Cover and cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender. Remove the lid, and if the gravy is too thin, set the pan on the stovetop and simmer uncovered until it thickens.