Carbonade Flamande is a traditional peasant dish local to the northern border region of France and Belgium. This dish is what it is all about – a few simple ingredients that when treated with care, will reward you with a tasty, unforgettable meal that is sure to become a family standby in the depths of winter.
There is not much to it. Carbonade is simply a sweet and sour casserole of beef, beer, bacon and onions, mustard and spice. Quality is key when it comes to ingredients here – you don’t have much to hide behind. Choose a good gravy beef prepared for long, slow cooking and a quality dark Belgian beer. I used Leffe (much to my husbands disappointment) but I hear that Chimay Blue also works very well.
Traditionally, this casserole is flavoured with the addition of several slices of spice cake (or gingerbread) spread with mustard and layered over the top. During cooking the cake breaks down and imparts its flavour into the casserole and thickens the liquid. A strange ingredient, but something that makes complete sense once you try it!
This dish is simple. Its delicious. I will be making this one again.
- About 1kg lean beef (gravy or chuck etc.)
- 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 bouquet garni
- 1 liter of dark beer (I used Leffe)
- 400 g of onion
- 250 g smoked bacon
- 5-7 slices of bread spice (Maison Fossier pain d’épice*)
- A knob of butter
- Salt (Fleur de Sel)
- Enamelled cast iron casserole dish with lid
Note: * If you are in Melbourne, this specialty spice cake is available from The Essential Ingredient. You can also substitute with a good quality gingerbread.
Carbonade is a dish that like all casseroles, always tastes better on the second day. The recipe I have adapted from Marmiton recommends two cooking periods, one day apart. You can just cook it the once, but you won’t get the depth of flavour and complex sweet, sour combination that is really the superstar of this dish.
How to do it
Cut your beef into 2 – 3cm cubes, roughly chop your onions and cut the bacon into about 1cm square cubes. This is rustic dish that will cook long and slow so you don’t want anything too finely diced – it’ll disappear!
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees celsius. Melt the butter in a large saucepan (or enamel casserole dish) over a medium heat. When bubbling gently add your onions and fry gently for 10 minutes or so until golden. Turn the heat up a little and add the bacon stirring so that the onions do not catch. When the bacon has rendered slightly and has begun to brown remove both the bacon and onion from the pan leaving all the juices behind.
Turn up the heat to high, add the beef to the pan and stir to brown on all sides. This will create a lot of liquid – which is exactly what you need. When browned, remove the pan from the heat and take the meat out of the pan leaving the juices (gravy) behind.
Return the pan to a high heat. Stir the brown sugar into the gravy and reduce to about half the original volume. Once the liquid has reduced, add the onions and bacon back into the pan and stir in the beef. Add the bouquet garni and add the beer – it will bubble and fizz before settling back down – just make sure you have added enough to cover all the ingredients in the pan.
Take 5-7 slices of the spice cake and spread on one side with the mustard. Lightly salt the casserole and then layer the spice cake over the top of the casserole. I laid the mustardy side down facing the casserole but not sure it matters either way as it is all mixed in at the end.
Cover the casserole dish with the lid and place in the oven at about 150 degrees celsius for about two and half hours or so remembering to remove the bouquet garni after about 1 and half hours (Cook time 1). When the first cooking time is up remove the casserole from the oven and let it cool slightly before giving it a stir, replacing the lid and cooling it in the fridge. The spice bread will dissolve and mix in – that is okay!
The next day, preheat the oven again to 150 degrees celsius. Scrape off any layers of fat that have solidified on the surface of the casserole as it cooled and return the casserole to the oven to heat up. Cook for another 2-3 hours (Cook time 2). If too liquidy you can remove the lid from the pot for the last 30 minutes or so of cooking to reduce liquid and thicken – but keep a close eye on it!
Serve with frites and enjoy!