Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve--Carbonnade Flamande

     We were lucky enough to get to spend Christmas and Christmas Eve with my parents and sister this year, and it's the first time they've been down to Missouri to see us over the holidays.  Christmas Eve night we had the candlelight service at church at 4:30 and both Jess and I were involved with the music, so we needed something delicious, and a bit special, but that didn't need much attending to in the hours before dinner.  Our solution?  The Belgian beef-and-beer stew, carbonnade flamande. 

     Sure, it's not that pretty to look at, and it's not that complex or difficult to put together, but apart from being a Belgian classic, it's hearty, rustic, and absolutely delicious.  I'd made carbonnade once before, long ago, but it was overly rich, fatty, and honestly not all that good.  This year, I found an authentic Belgian recipe, used the correct type of beer, and the author's 'secret ingredient' and it came out just about perfect. 
     The recipe I used can be found here, and as there seems to be some family history behind it, I'm not going to reprint it here.  However, I can make a few notes.  First of all, we did the 'crock pot' method, and it worked absolutely beautifully.  We put this on low and slow for about 6-7 hours and it was just about perfect.  As I made an absolute shambles of what was supposed to be homemade French baguettes that day, we did indeed (against the author's advice) use plain old, off the supermarket shelf, honey-wheat bread, and it worked just fine, though I've no doubt a delicious, rustic French loaf would have been better.  In terms of mustard, I wasn't sure whether to use American yellow (ballpark-style) mustard or dijon, but I went with the former, and used about half to three-quarters of what the author suggests.  I really didn't want 'mustard' to jump out at me in the final stew, and it certainly didn't, and I'll probably do the same thing next time around.  I did have a bit of trouble getting the onions to caramelize slowly like the author suggests, and didn't end up heating mine for as long, but they still came out quite nicely.

For what it's worth, I also used double-smoked bacon, and might have put in just slightly more than the original recipe called for.  I used the double-smoked (and the slightly greater proportions) because a) c'mon, it's bacon, and b) I wanted a bit of additional richness in the stew.  It worked great, and thankfully this didn't taste at all like 'bacon stew'. 
     Finally, a word on the beer.   I can't remember what I used the first time I made this, but after reading the author's blog, I decided I was going to use the right stuff this time.  I've recently become fond of Flanders Red ales and Flemish Oud Bruin ales as well.  Both of these beers come from the Flemish region of Belgium (though there are American-made versions available as well) and are slightly tart/sour, almost winelike, and very 'wild', being aged in oak with both regular beer yeasts, wild yeasts (like Brettanomyces) and bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.  Trust me, it's a whole lot tastier than it sounds.  The quintessential Flanders Red is Rodenbach Grand Cru (around $10.00 for a 750 ml bottle) and this would work well, as would Duchesse de Bourgogne (about the same price), or Petrus Oud Bruin (maybe a dollar cheaper). We, however, decided to use a new-to-Illinois brew, Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red, which is basically a higher-alcohol combination of the classic Flanders Red and Flemish Oud Bruin ales.  I wanted to try an American take on the style, and figured this would be a great opportunity to try something new (It also had a really cool bottle, but I accidentally deleted the picture).  By itself, the 9% abv of the beer overwhelmed the typical (and somewhat delicate) flavors of the best Flemish brews, but it worked quite nicely in this strew.  
      At any rate, we served this with potatoes lightly roasted in a bit of bacon grease and thyme (how good does that sound) and it made the perfect rustic, winter warmer of a meal.  Highly-recommended, and something we'll definitely return to in the future!
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