This article was published in The Wine Advisor FoodLetter on Thursday, Apr. 24, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/food/tsfl20080424.php.
Carbonnades a la Flamande
But some of the familiar classics of a generation ago are good enough to deserve a place in our modern recipe files. The other night, for instance, looking for something hearty to warm a chilly early spring evening, I thought of Carbonnades a la Flamande, a Belgian beef-and-beer stew so popular in an earlier era that versions of it appeared in both Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking and Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook.
Checking the archives for both versions, I found Claiborne's version more akin to my recollection, and easy enough to put together. Preparation time is brief, although quiet patience is required while it cooks: With tougher braising cuts of beef, an hour's slow simmer is good and two hours is better, so plan to start this one well before dinner.
I stayed fairly close to Claiborne's original recipe, although I substituted good-quality olive oil for the generic "salad oil" called for in the New York Times Cookbook, copyright 1961.
1 medium onion, enough to make about 1 cup chopped
1. Peel and chop the onion; peel the garlic and mince it fine. If the beef is not already cut up, cut it into 1-inch cubes. Don't try to "improve" the dish by using tenderloin or a good steak here; you want chuck or a similar braising cut with plenty of flavor that will stand up to long cooking.
2. Put the flour in a bowl and season it to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put in the cubes of beef and toss and stir them until they're well coated with seasoned flour. Remove the meat to a clean plate, knocking off any excess flour.
3. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and saute the onions and garlic over high heat until they're soft and starting to brown. Remove the onions and garlic to a bowl and put in the dredged beef, adding a little more olive oil if needed. Brown the meat on all sides, then return the cooked onions and garlic to the skillet.
4. Pour in the beer. A good Belgian ale like Chimay, Leffe or Duvel is best; I'd avoid dark beers or very hoppy ales, which would bring unexpected flavors to the dish. Put in the bay leaf and thyme.
5. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover the skillet and simmer over very low heat for one to two hours or until the meat is very tender. Check seasoning, add salt and pepper if necessary, and serve with crusty bread or potatoes.
WINE MATCH: This dish will work with any fruity red wine - it was fine with the Domaine André Brunel 2005 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Grenache featured in Monday's 30 Second Wine Advisor - but it really works best with good beer, ideally the same beer you used to cook it with.
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Last week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pork chops with pineapple chutney (April 17, 2008)
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