How’s it going, everyone? Excited for one more recipe from The World Cup Series? Today I’m going to talk about Belgium – officially the Kingdom of Belgium -and its ABSOLUTELY TO DIE FOR Carbonnade Flamande. Seriously… This recipe is going to win your heart in one bite! (When I asked my husband to rate this dish, he gave it a 11!)
Belgium is a country located in Western Europe; between the Netherlands to the north, Germany and Luxembourg to the east, France to the south and the North Sea to the west. It has 3 official languages: Dutch, French and German. The capital is Brussels and it’s officially bilingual. Because of the language differences and the unequal economic development of some regions in Belgium, there was always lots of tension between the Flemish and the Francophones. Pretty much no one gets along in Belgium and nobody can agree on anything… :-/ In fact, Belgium broke the record of going for the longest period of time without an elected government. What happened was: after 2010’s election, they all disagreed to the point where no government could be formed. This went on for over a year (589 days to be more exact)! The divisions in Belgium are so deep that many people expect Belgium to split into two separate countries at some point.
But enough of Belgium’s weird political issues! Let’s talk about what this country does best, and luckily to us, that’s food! Belgium is famous for its beer, chocolate, waffles and fries with mayonnaise. Did you know that even though fries are known as “French fries”, they are claimed to have originated in Belgium? Apparently, there’s a theory that says that some American soldiers, during World War I, erroneously believed that they were being served the dish in France. The fries in Belgium are usually sold in fast food restaurants or stands, called friteries, fritkot or frituur. They usually come in a “cornet de frites”, a white cone shaped cardboard, and they are served with sauces (typically mayonnaise and/or ketchup but they also have a huge variety of sauces). There is even something called Mitraillette, also known as L’Américain, that is a sandwich of fries. Holy Mary!! It’s pretty much a small baguette, fried meat (sausage, burger, steak, etc), fries and sauce. God, I wanna go to Belgium! Don’t you wanna go to Belgium?
Belgians usually eat three meals a day: a light breakfast, a light or medium lunch and a large dinner. My brother probably wouldn’t survive in Belgium with his no carbs after 6pm policy! lol They have many distinctive national dishes but that’s no surprise, given that they disagree about everything. Some internationally popular dishes – like spaghetti bolognese and burgers – are also popular in Belgium. (Aren’t they everywhere?). As I couldn’t possibly name all the mouth watering popular dishes, I’ll only highlight a few and you guys can research further if you so desire! :-) Some of the typical savory dishes are: Moules-frites (mussels cooked or steamed with onions and celery served with fries), Boudin (a type of sausage where the meat is mixed with fine breadcrumbs, sometimes eaten raw or barbecued), Stoemp (potato mashed with vegetables, usually carrots or cabbage) and, of course, our Carbonnade flamande. Typical desserts and sweet dishes include: waffles (obviously!), Speculoos (a shortcrust cinnamon cookie) and Smoutebollen (deep fried balls of sweet dough). There are 3 main types of Belgian waffles: Liege waffles (the most common), Brussels waffles (that are bigger, lighter, rectangular and topped with strawberries or ice cream) and galettes (softer, thinner, and typically eaten for breakfast with jam).
We can’t forget Belgian chocolate as the country is really famous for its chocolate. Both the chocolate bar and praline were invented by the Belgian chocolate industry. Nowadays, they produce and export 220,000 tons of chocolate each year! Some of the brands you would recognize are: Godiva (God I love Godiva! I even have a member card that allows me one free chocolate a month!), Leonidas, Neuhaus and Côte D’Or. One interesting fact is that Belgian chocolate is regulated by law since 1884, and a minimum level of 34% pure cocoa has to be present in the chocolate, which prevents adulteration with low quality fats from other sources. (One more reason to love Godiva!) The world biggest chocolate selling point is the Brussels National Airport. (Buying my ticket to Brussels in 3… 2… 1..)
So I’ve talked about all the popular food in Belgium but I’ve left the beer to the end because it’s going to be an important component of our dish. Belgium produces over 1100 varieties of beer, which is impressive given the country’s small size. On average, Belgians drink 84 liters of beer each year. The Belgian beer is a study in itself, that I hope I can master in the future. In the meantime, the beer we are going to focus on is the beer usually used on Carbonnades, the Flemish Red. It is a mildly strong beer with a deep reddish brown color and a distinctly acidic, sour yet fruity and mouthy taste. Although many beers will yield a delicious beef stew, the unique character of the carbonnade flamande comes only from a Flemish Red. Even though the most popular brand would be the Rodenbach, the one I was able to find in my local Whole Foods was Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale, which is actually the famous “BIOS – Vlaamse Bourgogne”, brewed by the Van Steenberge brewery under a private label for the Monk’s Café, a restaurant/bar in Philadelphia. Oh, by the way, this beer is only brewed once a year.
[Tip of the day: Whole Foods is a great place to find beer, as they have a section of imported beer that features beers from all over the world. (And no, they are not paying me for the advertisement! Unfortunately… lol).]
So… Carbonnade Flamande is a traditional Belgian sweet-sour beef stew, similar to the French Beef Bourguignon but cooked with beer instead of red wine. It is seasoned with thyme, bay leaves and mustard and it is usually served with fries or bread and accompanied by a beer. It is a perfect Fall dish that I’m making during the Summer just because it was my favorite Belgian dish! And also, I don’t have a waffle maker! hehe
This is not your quick/easy recipe, but it’s so worth the work, I promise! It’s is not difficult to make but you can plan to spend at least 2.5 hours cooking it! It is a great dish to impress friends, as the name already suggests! ;-)
So let’s start by marinating the beef with the garlic, the bay leaves, some salt and the Flemish Sour Ale. Marinate for a couple of hours or, even better, overnight in the fridge.
Drain the beef from the marinade, reserving the marinade for later. Pat dry the beef with paper towels. In a Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil over high heat until really hot. Fry the meat in batches until golden brown on all sides. Set the browned meat aside in a bowl or plate.
In the same Dutch oven, fry the chopped bacon over medium heat. Once it’s cooked and crisp, remove it from the pan and set it aside with the beef.
Add the onions, some salt (a pinch) and cook them in the bacon grease, until they caramelize (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. When the onions are caramelized, add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes. The flour is going to help thicken the sauce into this amazing gravy like awesomeness!
Add the beef broth and scrape the bits in the bottom (that are going to add so much flavor to your Carbonnade!!!). Add the reserved marinade, the beef, the bacon, the thyme and some fresh pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a full simmer. Then reduce the heat to low, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 hours or until the beef is fork tender and the sauce has thickened.
Add the brown sugar, the parsley and the mustard about half an hour before it finishes cooking.
Adjust the seasoning, discard the herbs (thyme and bay leaves) and serve with fries! If you want, you can sprinkle some fresh parsley to garnish.