As our culinary whistle stop tour of Europe pulled into Belgium, we cast our memories back to 2011 when we spent three nights in Brussels (with a day in Bruges).
On our first night there, we were lucky enough to find a fantastic little restaurant called Raphael where we sampled some traditional Belgian dishes like waterzooi and carbonnade flamande. The carbonnade was a highlight but one that was sadly not matched by our ill-chosen dinner on the ‘tourist strip’ the following night. However, Raphael’s version was so good that it was a dish that we were excited about trying to recreate.
Internet research caused us to realise that there are many variations of the recipe. Mustard, bay and thyme (as well as beef and beer) should be common to all, but bacon and sometimes mushrooms are apparently optional. We used our trusty Larousse Gastronomique, the classic French guide to all things culinary, to provide us with the following recipe (with a tweak or two).
1 kg chuck steak, cut into strips
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter (oil/butter can be substituted with 4 tbsp lard if preferred)
300g onions, sliced
750ml Belgian beer (we used Leffe, but anything similar would work equally well)
1 tsp mustard
1/4 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp beef stock
Salt and pepper
1. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy based casserole dish and brown the meat in batches over a high heat, then remove it from the pot. Add a dash more oil to the pot and fry the onions until golden. Remove the onions.
2. Make a brown roux with the butter and flour and then slowly add the beer. Add the mustard and brown sugar to the mixture.
3. Deglaze the pan with the beef stock and a dash of the beer before returning the sealed beef and onions to the pan. Add the beer mixture and bouquet garni and season.
4. Stir well and simmer on a low heat for two and a half hours, stirring occasionally.
5. Serve with fries and salad. (Mashed potato or even noodles, apparently, would work instead of fries.)
All that cooking time gave us the opportunity to sit, relax and enjoy some Belgian beer: there are many good quality options available in England (although they may take some finding if your local supermarkets are anything like ours). Miranda, who doesn’t normally enjoy beer, developed a taste for Belgian fruit beer whilst in Brussels. Cherry, or ‘kriek’, is a particular favourite, though strawberry, raspberry and peach have also been enjoyed. Ash’s parents were staying with us this weekend so his mum was introduced to cherry beer too and seemed pleased with the results!
Carbonnade is a rich, tender beef stew that goes well with crisp, salty fries and is balanced by the fresh acidity of a salad. It’s definitely a dish to be repeated (as is a trip to Belgium, an excellent country for a weekend break). And although it maybe didn’t quite live up to the magic of the Raphael carbonnade, we think we managed to recreate it fairly well.
We finished the meal with coffee, good conversation and, of course, a few squares of Belgian chocolate.
Next on the list is another country known for its beer, as well as pretzels, lederhosen and efficiency: Deutschland. See you there.