The closest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. As silly as this cliché sounds, I still fell for it.
My husband and I started dating when at the same time I finally decided to seriously learn how to cook. As I was looking for eager souls who can try out the dishes I’d prepare, one day I nonchalantly invited him for a weekend dinner.
So I began to ask, “What’s Belgian cuisine that you miss the most now?”
He grinned and quickly replied, “Belgian beef stew.”
I stared blankly at him as he began describing how this beef stew is prepared and how it tastes like. By the time my potential guinea pig left, I started to seek what this Belgian dish is all about.
Also known as carbonade flamande in French, or in Flemish stoverij or stoofvlees, this hearty, slow-cooked Flemish beef stew recipe is a national dish in Belgium. This Belgian dish has close resemblance with beef bourguignon in the south of France, since the term carbonade may also refer to certain beef stews cooked with red wine. This traditional Belgian sweet-sour beef and onion stew on the other hand, is made with beer, which is the signature element to achieve its distinct flavor. It uses a specific kind of Belgian-style ale and oftentimes a beer with a bitter or hoppy taste is preferred. If a true Belgian beer is not available, it is recommended to use a flavorful brown beer and for some, they suggest an “old stout” or thick beer.
My first cooking attempt of Flemish beef stew was considerably more authentic and traditional, or should we say a grandma’s approach to cooking carbonades. Apart from the beef, dark Belgian beer and tons of onions, I also included other flavor ingredients. I used black cherries jam and vinegar to accentuate the sour flavor; and flour coat for the beef chunks and mustard evenly spread out onto the white breads to thicken the sauce.
Then as its side dish, I served pomme frites. Or in English it’s fried potatoes, but we commonly we call it in the Philippines as French fries, which is incorrect to say so since these potato fries historically originated from Belgium. Upon hearing about it, I refrained from using that colloquial term again. It’s fried potatoes or potato fries, or simply, fries!
A year after the delicious Belgian beef stew I made that somehow captured my then-boyfriend’s heart, we got happily married. What an interesting coincidence as well that winter’s about to arrive when surprisingly I started craving for this warm beef stew. Now his wife, I told him what I was about to prepare for dinner and from there, I saw his familiar grin again. Oh he must have been always so hungry whenever he hears I’m cooking his favorite Belgian dish!
Carbonnade a la Flamande
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 pounds beef flatiron or blade steaks, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices, about 3 inches wide
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups thickly sliced onions
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Three 12-ounce cans beer
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Boiled carrots and potatoes, for serving
1. In an enameled cast-iron casserole, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Season the beef with salt and pepper and add one-third of it to the casserole. Cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with 2 more batches of meat, using the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
2. Add the onions to the casserole, cover and cook over low heat, stirring, until browned, 8 minutes. Stir in the flour until the onions are well-coated, then slowly add the beer. Return the meat to the casserole along with any accumulated juices. Add the thyme and bay leaves, cover and simmer over low heat, stirring, until the beef is tender, 2 hours.
3. Uncover and transfer the meat to a bowl. Simmer the sauce over moderate heat until thickened slightly. Discard the bay leaves. Return the meat to the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with boiled carrots and potatoes.