Carbonnade

This time of year I find myself craving comfort food for dinner every single night. Soups and stews, pasta dishes, anything roasted – it’s all good in my book. We don’t eat a lot of red meat, a grilled steak occasionally in the summer, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. Lately, though, I’ve found myself drawn to the beef section every time I’m in the store. I picked up a chuck roast a few weeks ago and made a terrific pot roast recipe (which may eventually make it on here…) and then last weekend I couldn’t resist a package of stew meat that was on sale. Nothing says winter to me like a cut of meat cooked low and slow in the oven over the course of an afternoon until it is so tender it simply melts in your mouth.

Carbonnade

After scanning a ton of recipes to utilize my stew meat, I settled on this carbonnade from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a Belgian beef, beer and onion stew and could not be more simple to make. The only veggies you’ll need to chop are onions so there’s not a lot of prep, and the only real hands-on cooking time is the effort spent browning the meat, which is well worth it for all of those delicious browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook’s Illustrated recommends a copper-colored Beglian ale for the stew, which I confess I did not use this time as I didn’t have it on hand. Even with a lesser beer, we still loved the stew. It’s hearty and flavorful – part sweet, part sour – and let’s not forget the amazingly tender beef. I served ours atop mashed potatoes and I highly recommend going that route, but egg noodles would also work.

Carbonnade: Belgian Beef, Beer and Onion Stew
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

3 1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
vegetable oil
2 pounds yellow onions (about 3 medium), halved and sliced about 1/4-inch-thick (about 8 cups)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 1/2 cups beer (12-ounce bottle or can)
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, tied with kitchen twine
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 300 F with a rack in the lower-middle position.

Pat the beef dry with paper towels, then season on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot.  Add about 1/3 of the beef to the pot – don’t crowd the meat, you want it to have space to brown properly.  Brown for about 3 minutes on the first side, then flip the meat over and cook until the second side is well browned, about another 3 minutes.  Transfer the beef to a bowl.  Continue browning the rest of the meat in batches, adding 2 teaspoons of oil for each new batch of meat.    

Once all the meat has been browned, reduce the heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pot.  Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the tomato paste.  Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits, until the onions are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the flour and stir to coat the onions.  Cook until the flour is lightly browned, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the beef broth, scraping the bottom of the pan again to loosen any remaining browned bits.  Add the beer, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar and beef (along with its accumulated juices) to the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Raise the heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  When the stew reaches a simmer, cover the pot partially, then transfer to the oven.  Cook until the beef is fork tender, about 2-3 hours.

Remove the thyme bundle and the bay leaves.  Adjust seasonings to taste before serving.

The stew can be made ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container for 4 days.