Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Wonderful, Warming Winter Stew

Carbonnades Beef Stew with Beer
I read about this stew a very long time ago. The book, no longer in print, was called Glorious Stew, by Dorothy Ivens, copyright 1969. It has been one of my favorite cookbooks since I got it as a soon-to-be new wife, way back then. The stew is supposedly Flemish in origin, and according to Ms. Ivens, the meat was meant to be cut in thin, flat pieces. Two things that made this stew stand out was the amount of onions and that it used beer as some of the cooking liquid.

I tried making the stew as Ms. Ivens suggests, but over time, some things just seemed easier to do a slightly different way. I liked the idea that the onions should be equal in weight to the meat. Onions are very sweet when cooked, and these just seem to melt down to nothing during the stewing period. I like beer, and learned to drink heartier beer while living in Guatemala, so a heartier beer is what I have always used. Ideally, a Belgian Ale would be the right beer for this stew. In Guatemala, I only had Guatemalan beer to choose from. Since living in the US again, I have used German beer over the years. Now, beers from anywhere in the world are available, so finding a Belgian Ale is not such a difficult thing anymore. Still, as with wine; if it is good enough to drink, then it is good enough to use for cooking.
Ingredients for Carbonnades

This recipe is found all over the internet, and is made in widely varying manners. The only thing that is consistent is the use of beer as some or all of the cooking liquid. There are enough beers available singly that even if beer is not your drink of choice, a bottle can still be acquired to use for the stew. The alcohol is cooked out completely with the long stewing process, but the flavor is just wonderful. My husband absolutely dislikes anything bitter, and never, ever drinks beer. That does not stop him from loving this stew! I generally use one normal sized bottle of beer. If needed, I may open a second and use a little more.
Steps 1 & 2: Bacon and Beef in Pot

For me, a stew is a one-pot meal. I might, on a rare occasion, serve a salad first, but generally, if I make a stew; that is dinner. My husband will eat bread with it, but I find a stew filling enough on its own. The stew has potatoes in it. I put the potatoes in at the beginning of the cooking period, as I do not like extra pots to clean afterwards. If you prefer potatoes that still taste and look like potatoes, peel them and cut in chunks near the time the stew is finished. Cook them in salted water until just tender and then drain and add them to the stew as it is served. If tarragon vinegar is not available, use cider vinegar and add in a half teaspoon of dried tarragon or 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon.

Carbonnades Beef Stew with Beer

Step 2 & 3: Onions and seasonings in the pot
Makes about 4 servings

2 pounds beef rump or chuck
2 - 4 slices bacon, cut across into 1/4-inch pieces
2 pounds white onions, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons salt
a few grinds of pepper 
1 - 2 cups beer; Belgian Ale preferred
4 medium potatoes, peeled, cut in chunks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
Extra parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to about 300 degrees. The stew should be able to maintain a simmer; adjust the temperature later, accordingly.

Step 5; adding the beer to the pot
Cut the meat into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes. Set the cubes of meat on paper toweling to dry; this ensures it will brown in the pan. Have a large stew pot or braising pan with a lid ready.

In a skillet, brown the bacon. Remove the bacon from the skillet with a slotted spoon and add to the stew pot. Retain the bacon grease in the skillet and add in the onions. Saute the onions until they are limp and golden colored, but not browned. Remove them to the stew pot with the slotted spoon. A few pieces at a time, brown the meat cubes. Do not crowd the pan or they will steam. Remove them to the stew pot as they are browned.

Step 6: Potatoes into the pot
To the ingredients in the stew pot, add the sugar, 2 tablespoons parsley, bay leaf, fresh thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour in the beer and stir all the ingredients to combine. Set the stew pot on a burner and gently bring up to a simmer. Cover with the lid and set the pot in the preheated oven. Check the pot after about 45 minutes to see if it is at a simmer. If it is boiling, lower the heat; if it is not simmering, raise the heat slightly. Check again about halfway through the cooking time to make sure there is still enough cooking liquid. If it is dry, add either more beer, or supplement with beef stock or water. Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours in all, or until the meat is tender.

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and vinegar. Set the stew pot on top of the stove, remove the lid and set the burner on medium low. Gently stir in the tarragon and cornstarch mixture, stirring until the stew has thickened slightly. Allow the stew to continue at a simmer for about 5 minutes more, to ensure the cornstarch is completely cooked through. Garnish with more parsley before serving.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.