Beef carbonnade is the stew of choice in Belgium and in the north of France, places too cold for growing wine grapes but famed for their beer.
- ¼ cup plain flour
- fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1.125 kg chuck steak or other stewing beef, cut into 5 cm cubes, patted dry
- 3 tbsp flavourless oil, such as canola or vegetable
- 6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 2.5 cm pieces
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 medium brown onions, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves (green germ removed), finely chopped
- 350 ml Belgian ale or similar
- 1½ cups no-salt-added beef broth
- 2½ tbsp brown sugar (light or dark)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 tbsp tomato paste or concentrate
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- pinch ground cloves
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cup cubed, roasted vegetables, or as much as you like (optional)
- ¼ cup chopped parsley, dill, chives, tarragon or mixed herbs, for serving
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, season generously with salt and pepper and drop in the beef; toss to coat.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a 4- 5 litre capacity casserole set over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add as many beef cubes as you can without crowding them, first shaking off excess flour. The beef will steam, not brown, if the pan is too full; cook, seasoning each batch with salt and pepper, until browned on all sides. The pieces should release easily from the bottom of the pot. As the meat is browned, transfer it to a separate bowl. If you need more oil to finish browning the batches, add it as needed. Reserve any leftover flour. If the oil in the pot has burned, wipe out the pot, leaving whatever solids (browned bits) have stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Toss the bacon into the pot and cook, stirring, until it has browned and its fat has rendered; transfer to the bowl with the beef.
Add the butter to the pot along with the onions and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper; reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramel-coloured. Be patient; this can take at least 30 minutes. If you had leftover flour, stir it into the caramelised onions and cook for 2 minutes, until it browns and loses its raw-flour taste.
While the onions are caramelising, preheat the oven to 150˚C.
Spoon the meat, bacon and whatever juices may have accumulated in the bowl back into the casserole. Add the ale or beer, the broth, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, tomato paste, allspice, cloves, thyme and bay leaves; increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and pepper, adding more as needed. Cover the pot tightly with foil, then with its lid and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 2 ½ - 3 hours or until the meat is tender enough to cut with a spoon. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
When you're ready to serve, stir in the roasted vegetables, if using, then sprinkle the stew with the chopped herbs. Serve with wide noodles, buttered or not.
• The stew can be refrigerated, covered, up to 2 days in advance; reheat over low heat. It can be frozen for up to 1 month.