There are several classics in Belgian kitchen which I simply adore. Beef stew (carbonade) is one of them. There are as many different recipes for this dish as there are Belgian families, or as there are Belgian beers. Some people make it without beer, but I think it’s a lot better with. I try to use a different type of beer every time, and although every beer will make the final result somehow different, I have never got stuck with a bad result. I especially like the dark sweeter beers, as they will give you the best sauce.
Preparing a good carbonade is not difficult at all, it’s just a matter of having the right ingredients and especially a lot of patience. This dish is at its best after having cooked for several hours. To allow for all the tastes to blend in to the maximum, it’s even best to prepare it one day in advance to eating.
The recipe below is a mix between Belgian chef Jeroen Meus’ recipe as shown in his TV show ‘Plat Préféré’ and a family recipe.
Carbonade: 1,5kg chopped beef (loin), 2 large onions, 4 garlic cloves, 2 laurel leaves, fresh thyme, 2 room temperature bottles Sint-Bernadus Abt 12 beer, 4 slices of gingerbread, mustard, thumb size piece of dark chocolate, 2 speculoos biscuits, 2 table spoons Sirop de Liège, vinegar (the Belgian brand De Blauwe Hand is ideal), butter, pepper & salt.
Melt some butter in a heavy pot or skillet and braise the chopped onions with garlic, laurel and fresh thyme. Allow for the onions to become a little brownish and then put aside.
Use the same pot, melt some new butter and sauté the meat. Season with pepper and salt. It is important to keep the pot or skillet as hot as possible, therefore don’t throw in too much meat at the same time. It’s better to sauté in several sessions. Make sure to cover the meat which has been done to avoid it will become dry. Once all the meat is done, put it all into the pot again, add the onions and deglaze with the beer. If you had kept the beer in the fridge, make sure to warm up before adding to the meat.
Cover the slices of gingerbread in mustard and add them to the beefstew pot, mustard side down. Add chocolate, Sirop de Liège and speculoos biscouts and bring to boil for 5 minutes with cover. Remove the cover, stirr well and leave to simmer for a few hours. Occasionally stir and scrape the bottom. The time really depends on the size of your beef chops, the meat should be very tender but not overcooked. I usually leave the heat on at minimum strenght for about two hours. If you like a lot of sauce, add some water with bouillon from time to time during simmering. Season with more salt and pepper as needed and add vinegar to your likings.
This dish goes best with hand cut fries. Use large size potatoes and make sure to pre-fry them at 160° for about 5-6 minutes (until they ‘sizzle’) and fry at 175° right before serving.