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Belgian beer for Carbonnade à la Flamande

I've done a little hunting for this topic, but haven't really seen anything come up. Anyone have a favorite brown ale they use?

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  1. I'd use a Chimay , probably the blue or something similarly dark and rich.
    I've had it in a Belgian restaurant in London with Gueueze beer but nor sure how easy it is to get hold of.

    2 Replies
      1. re: Insidious Rex

        You can make it with any beer. Though you may want to stick to a Belgian, Dutch or French style ale just for continuity.

    1. Traditionally either a Flanders Brown also known as Oud Bruin or Flanders Red is used.
      They are long aged in barrels and have a sour flavor that is distinctively fruity like a cider.
      You could use any brown ale as long as it is not sweet and get a great stew but one of the ales mentioned above yields a Carbonade IMO.

      1. If I'm making rundsstoverij at home, then I'm constrained by the beer I can buy in the supermarket - that would usually be Leffe Brown. Much more choice in Flanders and we're likely to bring a case home of whatever is on special offer in the supermarket there.

        1. Although many beers will yield a delicious beef stew, the unique character of carbonnade flamande comes only from a Flemish sour beer. The only widely distributed example in the US is Rodenbach, but fortunately it is a very good one. A few others are imported from Belgium, and a few US brewers make good versions, but in both cases they are difficult to find.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Idyllwild

            that's good to know. To me, Rodenbach Grand Cru is a little sweet on its own, though certainly delicious. How do the flavors develop in the carbonnade flamande?

            1. re: Idyllwild

              thank you for this info. I'm in a pretty high-end, hard-to-find beery town, so maybe I'll be in luck!

              1. re: charlesbois

                I'd be curious to know the source of this information. I make this dish a lot, and have tried to find a definitive answer regarding what kind of beer might be used. I've seen only one recipe suggesting the use of a Flemish sour brown ale, most simply suggest a dark beer of some kind. I've used dubbels for making this dish, and have tried Westmalle, Ommegang, and Chimay. The difference between them was negligible. I even made a kosher-for-passover version using Green's gluten-free Dubbel, and it came out great.

                This comment, left on a thread discussing the recipe on Simply Recipes, is pretty interesting. I have not tried this recipe, but I wouldn't be surprised if this were the closest version out there to the dish's origins:
                ======================================
                'Hello.

                Carbonades Flamandes. (no need for that 2nd 'n').

                Carbonades Flamandes is french for "Vlaamse Stoverij", i.e. stew from Flanders. I am 61, flemish and I know what I am talking about. No idea why the amerikanese (!) keep thinking that the whole of Belgium speaks french and keep naming towns and dishes in french. We are flemish and we speak flemish ! (a variant of dutch). So much for the historical and political part of this recipe.

                I read your recipe with great interest. Of course, in cooking everything is allowed as long as it is good and healthy.

                BUT, Gentse Stoverij (stew from Gent), the original beef-in-beer-stew recipe is somewhat different. No need for an oven at all. (This is originally a poor man's dish for not letting beef offal, white bread and stale beer go to waste).

                For best flavor one needs (serves 4):

                2 lbs of cheap beef with some fat (from the neck, NOT veal)
                1 lb of beef liver, NOT veal
                1 onion
                1 and a half lbs of old WHITE bread (real bread, not Wonderbread)
                1 bay leaf
                1 branch of thyme
                5 or more loaded tablespoons of real mustard
                1 oz of salted butter (NOT oil)
                Salt
                Pepper
                Beer as needed, provide for a gallon of it.

                1 black cast iron skillet
                1 black cast iron pot

                Cut the meat in cubes NOT larger than 1x1x1 inch. Smaller is even better.

                Sauté the meat and the onion in the butter, stirring the meat for abt 2-3 minutes, then dump everything in the large pot, seeing to it that all scrapings from the skillet are added.

                Slice the bread and smear both sides of each slice LIBERALLY with good, strong mustard. Put all the bread with mustard on top of the meat.
                Put in the bay leaf and thyme.
                Cover the contents of the pot in 2 inches of beer. ANY beer will do, cheapest lager is well enough and stale beer is better.

                Put the pot on, preferably, a gas burner so you can control the heat better.
                Bring to a boil on a hot fire, stirring while scraping the bottom since this has a pronounced tendency to stick. Keep stirring for, say, 10 minutes BOILING BEER, then lower fire to a gentle simmer, but go stir and scrape regularly.

                Add beer from time to time to keep the liquid level up. Depending on the meat, count with 2 - 4 hours of simmering, till meat is tender. During the last half hour or so of cooking stop adding beer so the sauce will reduce. Cook longer or less long if you want thinner or thicker sauce (some call it gravy).

                DO NOT FORGET TO STIR AND SCRAPE THE BOTTOM REGULARLY !!!

                NOW is the moment to decide !!!

                Add salt and pepper to taste. AND, if you wish, add potatoes to boil in the gravy for that last half hour (dish is difficult to over-cook). With the potatoes in, you need much more salt, of course.

                Without potatoes, it is a good idea to serve the meat and its gravy ON TOP of salted french fries. Or with anything else you like.

                NOTE: the bread is what thickens the sauce or gravy. The bread will completely dissolve in the cooking.

                I am very well aware of all the variants of this recipe, but that is as close as it gets as it was had by the (poor) textile workers in and around the town of Gent, in Flanders, Belgium, around 1900.

                This is how my grandmother (ex spinning mill worker) prepared it and passed her recipe on to me. Irma was born 1872 and lived for 99 years. I am 61.'

                1. re: Josh

                  I doubt that one style is used all over Belgium, not to mention that the dish is not constrained by national boarders.

                  1. re: chefj

                    I would be interested in knowing about any historical sources regarding the origins of this dish.

                    I'm not sure what the point about national borders is related to either: the dish is Belgian, and people are suggesting a very specific Belgian beer. Since the vast majority of Belgian beer is not sour, I find it hard to imagine that a peasant dish would require a sour beer.

                    If what's desired is fruitiness, then that's a trait displayed by almost all Belgian beers because of the yeast employed.

                    1. re: Josh

                      I doubt if you'll find historical sources, Josh. Right across northern Europe, we make stews. We use our local ingredients which, of course, are generally common across the countries. And, generally, speaking you'll find the cooking done in similar styles. So, for instance, there''ll be the Irish cooking beef with Guiness, Britons cooking it with Newcastle Brown and the Flemish cooking stoverij also using their local beers.

                      1. re: Josh

                        Do you really need historical sources?
                        It was a peasant dish as you said. It used flat (and probably sour, remember many beers where/are done with wild yeast strains spontaneously and storage temps,handling etc.. were not optimal.) beer, stale bread, onions and tough meat.
                        The point about the boarders is that the same stew is made in the surrounding areas, Holland, Germany, France, Great Britain and I am sure local beer was used.
                        The reason you see so many people suggesting beers with a acidic profile is because they think it makes a better tasting stew, me included. The Caramelized onions need the counter point of the acid IMO.
                        Many Oud Bruins are sour but the style does vary greatly.
                        I think that many recipes assume that you will not be using a beer that has a sour profile(since they were not very available until recently in many places and are expensive)thus the need for the vinegar. As far as the sugar I can not imagine that adjustment would be necessary with all the sweetness from the onion.
                        Gueuze would be a fine beer for this sour, fruity and no hops. And that recipe does not call for any sour adjustment at all only sweet.Gueuze are way too expensive round here for me to braise in though.

                        1. re: chefj

                          I think any time you're seeking out the genesis of a dish you do want to look at historical sources, if at all possible. Otherwise you wind up with speculation and conjecture morphing into accepted lore over time (see: the bogus story of IPA).

                      2. re: chefj

                        For example, this graf from Wikipedia makes little sense:

                        "The type of beer used is important, and traditionally an Oud bruin, Brune Abbey beer or Flanders red is the beer of choice with a somewhat bitter-sour flavour.[3] In addition to this and to enhance the sweet-sour flavour, just before serving, it has a small amount of cider or wine vinegar and either brown sugar or red currant jelly stirred in."

                        Oud bruin, dubbel (I'm assuming this is what they mean by "brune abbey"), and Flanders red all have quite different flavor profiles, and only one of the three is reliably sour. Oud bruins can sometimes have a hint of tartness, but not as a matter of course. Most I've had aren't sour at all. Every recipe I have seen, though, does feature the addition of vinegar and brown sugar at the end of cooking to give the sweet/sour flavor.

                  2. I think almost any sour-ish Belgian brew is appropriate for this stew (try Ommegang). To put it really simply, Belgian beer tends to taste wine-y. Carbonnades made with a beer-ier beer will taste wrong. I would rather use a mixture of red and white wine than, let's say, a nice, crisp lager.