Carbonnades à la Flamande (Beef and Onions Braised in Beer [aka a Reason to Love Fall])
I have a love/hate relationship with the end of summer. As someone that went to college in Southern California, I hate to see the end of the occasional heat and sun Seattle gets in July, August, and September. It’s a sad day when I go outside in my shorts and flip flops and come close to freezing. I especially dislike waking up when it’s still pitch black and it’s never fun seeing the sun set earlier and earlier each night. End of September and early October is probably the time of year I dislike the most since it’s no longer summer but not quite fall.
But then in mid October I begin to love the change of seasons. Anything pumpkin flavored makes me happy, the leaves on trees change color, and Seattle experiences some truly crazy weather! When it’s not gloomy or rainy, I think Seattle has the most gorgeous weather and I quickly remember why I live in Seattle: it’s simply stunning.
Then you factor in all the fun fall activities: drinking hot chocolate by the fire (btw, does anyone have a fire I can drink hot chocolate in front of?), pumpkin carving, corn mazes, and ridiculous Halloween costumes…
And of course, braised meats. I find rib sticking, hearty, booze-braised foods some of the most comforting things to eat. While eating a boeuf bourguignon or braised short rib on an 80-degree day will still be tasty, it’s so much better when the weather is cool and crisp (and really, who wants their oven on when it’s sunny and warm outside).
Carbonnades à la Flamande (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking) is one of my favorite braised meat dishes. It’s comforting and filling without being excessively heavy. While many braised meat dishes call for wine, the use of beer gives it a decidedly different taste. Julia Childs recommends a light Pilsner (which is what I use), but there are other recipe variations (including one from the New York Times circa the 1950s) out there that call for heavier ales.
Beef and Onions Braised in Beer
- 3 pounds lean beef chuck, sliced into large chunks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cups sliced onions (roughly 1.5 pounds)
- Salt and pepper
- 4 cloves finely minced garlic
- 1 cup beef broth
- 3 cups of light beer (Pilsner)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/4 cup minced Italian flat leaf parsley
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (feel free to use 1/2 teaspoon minced, fresh thyme if you have it on hand)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Cut beef into chunks and pat dry with a paper towel (dry meat browns better).
In a French oven (a Le Creuset or Staub are perfect but any pan that can be covered and go from stove top to oven works), heat up the olive oil on medium-high heat. Place beef in a single layer and brown (don’t overcrowd). Once the beef has browned on all sides (in batches, if necessary), remove the beef, lower heat to medium, and add the onions, and about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook for 10-15 minutes until onions have lightly caramelized.
Add garlic and browned beef and stir slightly until mixed. Sprinkle in an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Pour in beef broth and beer and stir, being sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan (they have so much flavor!). Add brown sugar, parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to simmer, cover, and place in preheated oven for 2 to 3 hours (the longer it cooks the more tender it gets).
Once beef is fork tender, remove from oven. Drain the cooking liquid into a saucepan, set aside beef and onions. Bring broth/beer mixture to a simmer. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and vinegar into a paste. Stir into the broth/beer mixture and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Be sure to taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper as needed. Stir in the beef/onion mixture and serve.
This is best with buttered noodles (my personal favorite) or diced, boiled potatoes. If desired, finish off with a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley and get ready to enjoy a delicious meal!
Okay… one last crazy weather photo: