Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)

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The French have made cooking with wine into quite a thing: Cuisine in the US routinely uses wine for deglazing and general flavouring, for example. Yet the Belgians’ love affair with beer, a passion akin to that of the French for wine, hasn’t really caught on in America. Beer is used occasionally in barbecue and fondue, but the classic Belgian beef stew made with beer is surprisingly rare here in the States. You’d think that with all the Coors and Budweiser being quaffed, some of it would make its way into stews with unfailing regularity. Apparently quaffing beer straight up is preferable to coating beef with it.

Beef and ale go together like chocolate and peanut butter; one teases subtle flavour variations out of the other that otherwise would go unsung. The ale imparts a hearty richness that makes you feel as though you’re transported back in time; you and your dining companions, all swathed in fur, are sitting together at a stone table in the tapestry-adorned royal hall, as the fireplace burns against the wicked snowstorm raging outside. But it can’t reach you inside, not just because there are tapestries hanging on the masonry: This stew warms you from within. It’s fabulous.

I still love my balsamic beef short ribs more than any other beef recipe, but when one tires of balsamic vinegar – it happens to the most devoted of gourmands – this hearty, ale-infused stew is just the trick to put everything right again. 🙂 Best of all, it can be cooked in an Instant Pot! That’s what I did. I include instructions for both the traditional Dutch oven and the Instant Pot methods in the recipe below.

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Use any ale you enjoy drinking straight out of the bottle. I’ve used blond ale here because it’s apparently traditional in Belgium for use in stews; it has a mild bitterness offset by a light sweetness. You can soar beyond mere tradition and figure out what, exactly, tickles your taste buds in just the way you like. 😉

Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)

Ingredients:
5 lbs. chuck-eye roast (or 1″ thick beef blade steak), cut into 1″ cubes (don’t remove fat if using chuck-eye roast; if using blade steak, remove gristle running through the middle, but leave any remaining fat)
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive oil, for sauteeing beef and onions
3 large onions, cut into 1/8ths
1 TBS tomato paste
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. beef broth, plus extra for cooking onions (about 1/2 to 3/4 c.)
24 oz. beer / ale (I used two 11.5 oz. bottles of blond Leffe)
8 sprigs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
3 – 4 TBS cider vinegar

Method:
If using Dutch oven, preheat oven to 300°F. If using Instant Pot, disregard. (The Instant Pot method for this recipe is for an 8 quart pot. It will probably fit into a 6 quart pot, but I haven’t tried this.)

Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil until just smoking in 5-quart Dutch oven for oven method; for Instant Pot method, use a large pan (12″ minimum is best). Brown beef in batches, transferring browned beef into a large bowl (you’ll want to keep the juices from this). If fond in pan becomes too dark, deglaze as needed with water, ale, red wine, or broth (or some combination thereof).

Deglaze pan once you are done browning beef, if needed. Add more olive oil and add onions; sprinkle generously with salt. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add enough beef broth to just cover onions (this will enable the onions to cook evenly) and cook until onions are softened, about 15 – 20 minutes.

When onions are softened, add garlic and cook about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. At this stage:

If using Dutch oven, add chicken and beef broths, scraping bottom of pan to deglaze. Add beer, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, and browned beef with juices. Cover Dutch oven with lid and place in oven. Bake until beef is fork tender, about 2 hours.

If using Instant Pot, pour chicken broth, beef broth, beer, and vinegar into Instant Pot. Add thyme and bay leaves. Add onion mixture and layer browned beef on top, making sure to pour any accumulated beef juices into the pot as well. Cover and seal lid. Set to ‘High Pressure’ on Manual mode, and cook for 40 minutes. Use Quick Release method. Serve.

Source: Heavily adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen (Brookline, MA, 2014). Instant Pot methodology my own creation.

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