Seriously, the first week of school? As if on cue, leaves started curling up and hitting the pavement, evenings have started showing up unreasonably early (dark at 8:30!) and it’s been chilly enough that I’ve put on both my wool and down jackets over the past couple days. Suddenly there’s a clear (short!) window between work/school and dinnertime, and the beginning of after school stuff, lessons and practices. Somehow even after the calendar gave me a month of warnings, it seems sudden.
And it makes me want to make a stew. This of course requires an oven, which I don’t have – or does it? Fall is the time for slow cookers to come out of hiding, but it’s a good time for pressure cookers too – the new generation of pressure cookers are far less scary than those ones our grandmothers used, which were feared for their habit of blowing up. They’ve evolved a great deal over the decades; with multiple safety valves you don’t have to worry about any kitchen explosions and you can shave two-thirds to three-quarters of your cooking time – a great thing when you’re cooking things like ribs, braises and stews, but it can be used for virtually anything you’d normally cook on the stove top, adding that long-cooked quality that can make so many things so much better.
Like this 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 my Belgian grandma making. It’s very beefy, without veggies, 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 pages in longhand, but it’s really not complicated at all. (And of course if you wanted to, you could add carrots, potatoes, parsnips, or whatever beef stew-friendly veggies you like.)
It can be done fast (in a pressure cooker), slow (in a slow cooker) or in between (in the oven) – if you don’t have either a slow cooker or pressure cooker, Breville has both in one unit – so if you manage to plan ahead, you can pop it in and set it on slow before work, or throw it together after work and still have a tender, melt-in-your-mouth meal by dinnertime.
Beef Carbonnade Flamande
2-3 lb. (1.25 kg) beef chuck or blade, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup beef broth or stock
1 can or bottle dark beer
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (optional)
egg noodles, for serving
butter, for serving
If you’re using it, preheat the oven to 300°F.
In a medium bowl, toss the beef cubes with flour, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set a medium ovenproof pot over medium-high heat, add a drizzle of oil and when it’s hot, brown the beef on all sides, working in batches and setting the browned beef aside on a plate. Add the onion to the pot and cook until almost crisp and the fat has rendered; add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes, until soft and turning 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 thyme and bay leaf, cover and cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender. (Alternatively, transfer to a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or to a pressure cooker and cook according to the manufacturer’s directions; it should be about a third of the cooking time, or about 45 minutes.)
Meanwhile, cook the egg noodles, timing it so that they are done at roughly the same time as the carbonnade. Discard the bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the beef carbonnade over buttered noodles. Serves 6.
* This post was generously sponsored by London Drugs, but all words and thoughts are my own. Thanks, London Drugs!