Carbonnade – Belgium’s Pot Roast
Is it possible to have too many recipes for pot roast? Probably not. Definitely not if you’ve ever tasted Carbonnade, the soul food stew of northeastern France & Belgium. Carbonnade is beef stew slow-cooked in beer and served on toast. It’s the perfumed cousin of the army’s infamous SOS. However, in this case the ‘shit’ is chuck roast and the ‘shingle’ is a good slice of mustard-coated French bread. My grandmother’s oldest brother introduced the concept upon his return from France where he had first had a quick bowl dished out by a grateful farmer’s wife in St. Etienne. It was a hit with his West Texas family. I mean, beer and beef what’s not to like, right?
Beer & Tarragon? Yes
It’s usually made with Flemish dark beer but I used some Texas Shiner as you can see below. And interesting with the tarragon. I’m guessing that Shiner & tarragon don’t spend a lot of quality time together, but here they seem quite compatible.
Another option which I used once because I forgot to buy Shiner was Guinness. After pouring it in the complex aroma metaphorically exploded in my face and I was amazed at my accidental brilliance in using it. That was until I found out that it’s a rather common thing in the British Isles. In fact, there’s a famous chef with an instructional video featuring Guinness marinated Carbonnade. I felt like Alfred Russell Wallace who failed to get credit for the theory of evolution because Darwin beat him to the publishing punch. It happens. But what the hell – it still tastes good so try it that way sometime.
Prepping the Stew
Once you’ve assembled the ingredients cut the meat up into large pieces. Many recipes will have you cutting the roast into small bite-sized chunks. This is both undesirable and unnecessary. It’s undesirable because large chunks make it easier to cut off the fat & silver skin and quicker to brown, and unnecessary because after a couple of hours in a slow oven the meat will shred with a fork. So stick with the big chunks, brown them in some oil, and set them aside.
Next fry the bacon and when it is mostly done drop in the onions and garlic along with the vinegar & brown sugar. Stir well, cover, and turn down the heat to low. This is the part where you caramelize the onions. That means cooking low and slow for probably 30 minutes or so until the onions are golden going on brown. This does not require constant stirring – more like intermittent checking to make sure that there’s liquid in the pot so that the onions don’t go dry. They probably won’t but if it the pot’s starting to look parched add a few tablespoons of water. Towards the end it should look like this:
Then add the beer and scrape the bottom of the pot vigorously to dislodge any browned bits. Let it boil off the alcohol for a couple of minutes then add the meat and herbs (and if you’re doing this in a crockpot stop here, transfer everything to the crockpot and then add the meat & herbs). Now check the liquid level. It should be just above the contents and if it’s not, add water till it is. Most recipes will tell you to add beef broth but it’s not crucial since all that beef will make its own broth after a couple of hours in the oven.
Serve it up!
When it’s fork-tender, it’s done and if you did a good job trimming the fat you may not even need to degrease the pan. It usually makes a nice gravy but if you want to thicken it just boil it down and then slowly add a tablespoon of cornstarch or flour diluted with water into the mix for a couple before taking it off the flame. If you add some carrots, turnips or potatoes about thirty minutes before you take it out of the oven you’ll have your veg and a complete meal will be yours.
Below you see it’s been shredded, breaded and anointed with green onions and gravy. Delicious. And it’s even better the second day although I don’t know if it’s the flavor or the fact that you don’t have to do anything except warm it up. It freezes well and if you do that don’t forget to remove any vegetables since they don’t (freeze well).
So there you have it. From St. Etienne to you, another great way to braise beef.
- 2.5 lbs. chuck beef
- 2 rashers of bacon
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 lbs. yellow onions, sliced
- 1 head of garlic
- 4 cloves
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 bottle of dark beer
- grating of nutmeg
- 2 spears of herbs (tarragon, thyme, or marjoram)
- water to cover
- Slices of French or Italian bread, toasted
- Cut meat into very large pieces, remove fat, salt & pepper them, then brown in some hot oil.
- Remove browned meat and add bacon to the pot. Cook until browned then add butter.
- Peel the onion, slice thinly, and put into the oil along with the garlic. Cook over a low flame until they start to caramelize.
- Add beer and scrape off the brown from the bottom.
- Add cloves, brown sugar, vinegar, bay leaf, nutmeg, and herbs.
- Return meat to pan & arrange so that all is covered with the beer. If the meat is not submerged add some water.
- Place in a 250 degree oven for 2 hours or until meat is completely tender.
- Remove meat to a platter.
- Strain & degrease sauce adding a little flour or cornstarch to thicken if desired. Otherwise you may just use the liquid in the pan as is.
- Serve gravy over meat or on the side as desired.