Belgian Classics (1): How to make Flemish beef stew?

Today I share a classic Flemish dish from my hometown Ghent and my brother’s favourite: Flemish beef stew. On the restaurant menu it is called in French: carbonnade flamande or in Flemish: Gentse stoverij.

As part of a series of Belgian dishes posted every first Wednesday of the month, I vow to demystify these uber Belgian classics for you. Step-by-step I will show you what to do this will have you successfully recreate those gorgeous rustic Belgian flavours.

There is nothing like this Belgian beef stew that doesn’t screams home to me. I am a BIG fan of stews however I don’t really recall my dad, the Michelin star chef who loved cooking classics for us and the staff, ever making it but he must have.

I remember eating it at my high school mostly. I was VERY lucky to spend 7 years at the Catholic school Saint Peters institute in Ghent, where only girls in blue uniform attended. It was a VERY happy time, I learned a lot and the food was pretty good too.

Every Thursday we got fries, it was mayhem in the cafeteria as everyone was elbowing in the queue to grab seconds before the bell rang. One of the Sister was on the lookout for girls indulging a bit too much, no gluttony allowed! Often fries were paired with Flemish beef stew,  that was a great Thursday!

Now what makes this Belgian beef stew different than others? We use Belgian brown beer ( duh) and keep it pretty simple: onions, beef, flour, beer, bread, bay-leave, mustard and a touch of sweetness. I think the beer and mustard are key to the authentic taste of the stew.

BEEF – ask your butcher for the beef cut to make a stew, generally the neck or shoulder, have him chop it in 4 cm cubes. On average you need about 200 gr of meat per person. It is important to sear the beef first before braising it, get all the flavour and juices locked in. The dusting of flour will help thicken the sauce. Make sure when adding the beer your meat is submerged.

BEER – Soooo many to choose from, ideally it is from a place near Ghent but not being a beer connoisseur I went with what in had in the house. Any dark beer will do, but let it be Belgian pheleaze!

RED CURRANT JELLY – now there are several ways to bring a little sweetness to balance the brown beer that may make it bitter. You can add red currant jelly, or a spoon of brown sugar or even a slice of peperkoek ( pain d’epices or gingerbread). It’s not a step to skip as you need a touch of sweetness.

MUSTARD – Blessed are we in Ghent with this ancient condiment and spices shop called Tierenteyn-Verlent located on the vegetable market  ( Groentenmarkt 3, Ghent) selling their fiery mustard made according to a secret yet authentic recipe from 1790. Adding a sharp flavoured but smooth textured mustard to the stew makes a huge difference! In my post about Ghent coming soon, more about this shop!

Belgian classic: Flemish beef stew

Yield 2 portions

Ingredients

  • 600 gr beef , chopped in 4 cm chunks
  • 1 onion, roughly diced
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 2 tablespoon butter, unsalted
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 (33cl) bottle brown beer
  • 50 ml beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon red current jelly or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a sprig fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large cast iron type of pan, saute the onions till soft, remove and reserve. 
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan, season the meat with salt and pepper and sear over medium heat the beef a few chunks at time. Don't crowd the beef or you will not be able to get an even searing on all sides. Dust with flour from time to time when turning the meat over and continue searing. remove the meat and reserve with the onions.
  3. Add the beer to the pan and turn up the heat, bring to a boil. Scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the casserole. Add the beef and onions back in along with the red currant jelly, nutmeg, bay leaves and thyme. Make sure the beef is fully submerged, add beef stock if needed. Stir and bring to a simmer.
  4. Spread the mustard on the slice of bread on both sides and place on top of the beef. This will disintegrate completely adding flavour and help thicken the sauce.
  5. Simmer the stew covered with the lid for 1,5 hour, stirring every 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and simmer for another 30 minutes till the sauce has thickened, remove from the heat.
  6. The stew can be served immediately with fries or boiled potatoes. However the stew flavours build up even more if you can tolerate letting it stand with lid on for 12 hours. It's hard to resist but it will be worth it.

Notes

on www.leeksandhighheels.com by Sandra Slawinski

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