As you may have read in my review of ‘The Taste of Belgium’, Belgium may be a small country but we have a large variety of food we like to cook! Back in 2015, one of Belgium’s national chefs, Jeroen Meus, went on a search to find out what dishes were considered the most classic Flemish recipes by Belgians. Among the top 10 were chicory in ham, Flemish asparagus, rabbit with prunes and meatloaf or meatballs with sour cherries.
But the undisputed number one turned out to be.. *drumroll* beer & beef stew with fries, or ‘Stoofvlees met frietjes’ in Dutch! To celebrate this national dish, Jeroen Meus declared march 1st ‘National Beef Stew & Fries day’, so I decided to make my own recipe and I’ve been using it ever since! What makes Belgian beef stew so different is that we use certain Belgian beers to give flavor to the stew. We usually serve this along with some delicious fries, but you can also serve it with potato croquettes.
It can be a bit harder to find some good Belgian beers here in Ireland, but I’ve found mine in the past in Number 21 Off license and in Lidl and Aldi. Some websites also sell it online, but I’d recommend going to your local off-license and if they don’t have it, ask them if they can import a few bottles, they are usually quite happy to do it!
For your choice of beef I always recommend Irish beef as they have a lot of room to move and their food is usually at least 95% fresh Irish grass. For the best pieces it’s recommended to go for shoulder, neck or chest stewing pieces. The local butcher is your best place to go for sure, as he’ll be able to give you the best pieces, whereas some supermarkets will not use the best parts in their packages of stewing beef.
Next up we use bread and mustard in the sauce as well. The bread is used to thicken the sauce, so make sure to only use brown bread, white ones won’t have the same effect.
When it comes to the beer itself, it’s important to go for a dark/brown/abbey beer like Westmalle Trappist Double, Sint Bernardus Abt 12, Brown Leffe, Chimay, Petrus .. Some beers will give off a more sweet flavour, others a more bitter one. In general, Sint Bernardus Abt 12 is considered to be the best match.
One last interesting ingredient is Sirop de Liège, a syrup made from pears although the brand also has an apple version. It’s nearly impossible to find this in Ireland however, so you can substitute it with honey or maple syrup to give it an extra hint of sweetness compared to the bitterness of the beer.
Carbonade Flamande or Belgian Beef and Beer Stew
- 1kg good quality stewing beef
- 2 bottles (2x33cl) of Belgian beer
- 2 tablespoons of Sirop de Liège (Pears), honey or maple syrup
- 2 onions
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 cloves (warning: this is not garlic!)
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1 large slice of brown bread or 2 smaller slices
- 2 tablespoons of mustard
- 2 cubes of beef stock
- at least 250ml of warm water
- pepper & salt
Chop the onions into small pieces and put the cloves in a tea infuser, so we can remove them once the stew is done and no one accidentally eats them.Heat up just a little bit of butter in a frying pan and brown the beef cubes. Be careful though, cause if you add too much butter your beef won't brown or sear and will turn out soggy.
We need the beef to be really browned (not burned obviously) because that'll make the sauce browner in the end too. If you have a lot of beef, you might have to cook it in batches cause you need to make sure every piece of beef is browned properly, so don't overcrowd your pan.
While they are browning, add a bit of pepper and salt onto the beef cubes.
In the meanwhile, heat up some butter in a stewing pot and start frying your onions. Add the beef once it's browned, but leave as much of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, as we'll be using this to mix it with the beer.
Once all your beef is in the stewing pot, add the beer to the empty pan and scrape off as much of the bottom as you can, while bringing the beer to a boil.
Once it's boiling, add the beer to the stewing pot along with the bay leaves, thyme, 1 cube of beef stock and the infuser with cloves.
Make sure the beef is fully covered by liquid, if it's not, add water to fill the pot up more.
Spread a thick layer of mustard onto your slices of brown bread and put them with the mustard side down onto the stew. Push it down in the sauce and let it stew along with the rest at low-medium heat.
Check the pot regularly and if you find a lot of the liquid has evaporated, add just a bit more water at a time.
Let your beef stew for at least 1 hour and then check how tender the meat is. I personally prefer my beef stew to be really soft so I would let it stew for 3-4 hours but it's up to your own personal preference to do so.
If the sauce isn't thick enough, simply add another slice of bread (mustard optional).
Once the stew is done, remove the bay leaves and the infuser with cloves and serve your stew along with some delicious fries or potato croquettes.