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carbonnades a la flamande?

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tonight i made my first beef carbonnade, from julia child's recipe in mastering the art of french cooking. it's beef stew season, and friends of mine have been making them with wine, topping them with blue cheese crusts, what have you. i wanted to try this belgian version with beer.

i'm pretty happy with the results, but i want to make this part of my regular cold season repertoire, so i thought i'd throw it out for discussion.

in julia's method, you basically sear the beef, then cook the onions in the same pan over a lower heat. after deglazing the pan with stock, you layer the beef and the onions in a casserole, tuck in a bouquet garni, add sugar, the stock, the beer, and let simmer in a low oven for a couple hours before thickening with wine vinegar mixed with corn or arrowroot starch.

i cooked mine on the stove instead. i resisted the urge to add root veggies, and used a chimay rather than the more timid pilsner she suggests. it was pretty good, and unique to me. i did embellish with a bit of butter and a single slice of bacon added while simmering. i really enjoyed the sweet and sour element of the sauce, which married so well with fusilli (i didn't have regular egg noodles or potatoes).

problems: i used chuck roast that was grass-fed and really lean. the roast had a nice sheet of fat on the surface so i was surprised at how lean it was when i sliced it up. i cut it into smaller pieces than called for because i didn't want to have large, chewy chunks to gnaw on. the flavor was good, but i wanted it to...give when bitten into. plus, the onions melted away. are they supposed to be sliced a little thicker or should they just dissolve like that?

are other veggies traditionally not used? i ate it with a side of spinach, but i wanted potatoes and carrots. what other cuts of beef do people recommend? is bacon ever a traditional component? i read about people adding mustard, or even slathering it onto gingerbread or bread to dissolve into, thicken and flavor the dish, or adding allspice, etc.

i am interested in traditional approaches, but won't limit myself to them. indeed, i'm wondering if julia's french leaning is much different from the belgian. i like the sweet/sour flavor profile, and the richness of the beer, so don't want to stray too much. but i'm interested in what other people do with this dish. right now, it's the best beef stew/braise i've turned out of my own kitchen besides korean kalbi jjim, or braised short ribs.

any tips or suggestions? thanks

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  1. augustiner: I just saw your post as I was about to log off for the night. Brought back memories of carbonnades I've made in the past. Thanks for reminding me of this dish, especially now that winter is coming on.

    I've always used dark beer or ale when I've made it, and agree that Julia's pilsner sounds wimpy. I'd try the recipe on short ribs. Chuck roasts these days are less fatty than they used to be and grass-fed beef is even more lean. I'd look for a non-grass-fed chuck roast with good marbling. More later.

    1 Reply
    1. re: oakjoan

      short ribs is a great idea. but not during this unusually warm bay area november!

    2. Have you tried using shin of beef? Very good for slow braising.