I’m still cooking meals for the new family and it’s great to have this practical way to help as Jonathan and Lyndsey adjust to the new baby’s arrival. It’s challenging me in a nice way to come up with different meals each evening; meals that are hearty and full of goodness. It reminded me that when my kids were small, cooking a good meal each suppertime was only difficult in terms of deciding what to cook and not the actual cooking. At a time when obviously my creative cooking faculties were particularly challenged I can remember my kids telling me they knew what day of the week it was by what I cooked for supper!
A Boeuf Bourguignon last week was a great success so I decided to ring the changes a little by cooking some beef in beer Flemish style for this evening rather than red wine: Carbonnade de Boeuf Flamande. My recipe isn’t quite a classic one: I didn’t caramelise the onions in sugar and vinegar, and I added mushrooms – partly because I had so many in my fridge but also because I love the deep earthy flavour that mushrooms bring to a beef stew. I did, however, use one of my favourite Belgian beers – Leffe – and this of course was a great way to bring the Flemish into my stew.
I’m not a great beer drinker. I quite like beer and will often have a small lager at lunchtime on holiday if I’m somewhere hot as it’s such a refreshing and cooling drink, but it’s the only time I drink lager. I do like real ales and Jonathan has been buying bottles from a great local shop specialising in them so I’ve been tasting a few recently. But when it comes to buying beer myself, it’s nearly always Leffe I keep in my fridge. I drink it only occasionally though, perhaps with a curry. Many of my Italian friends like beer with their pizza, but I usually choose wine. Cooking beef in beer is something I used to do a lot many years ago when I was first married and it went through a fashionable phase. Then about 14 years ago when I spent a lot of time in Brussels, I remember going to restaurants where the real choice was which beer you had your meat cooked in! Sometimes there’d be a long list of beers but little choice of meat. It was also in Belgium that I first experienced mussels served with beer and frites. Fabulous!
I bought some lovely best braising steak (800g) from my local Laverstoke Park Farm shop which I cut into nice chunks and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I roughly chopped about 6 slices of fairly lean streaky bacon. I heated some olive oil in a large saucepan and then browned the meat to seal the juices and add to the flavour. Do this in small batches otherwise the oil is too cool to brown the meat well and it steams rather than fries. Remove them to a plate as they’re done. Now, add a little more oil to the pan if necessary and add the bacon, 1 large onion chopped, 1 large carrot chopped and 1 stick celery chopped.
Although many recipes for Carbonnade use just onion, I wanted a proper soffritto to bring a depth of flavour. I gently cooked them until colouring but not brown.
Then I added 1 tablespoon plain flour and mixed in before adding 2 x 330ml bottles of Leffe.
Mix well and then return the meat to the pan. Add 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence. Bring it all up to just starting to boil – you’ll see bubbles at the edge. Pop a lid on and transfer it to a 160C/140 Fan/Gas Mark 3 oven for an hour.
Meanwhile, soften some mushrooms in olive oil. I had 3 huge Portabello ones that I chopped into bite-sized pieces; often I use chestnut. But do use some with a good nutty flavour – not those tasteless white ones! Also roughly chop a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley. After an hour’s cooking remove the meat from the oven and add the mushrooms and parsley.
Give it all a good stir and return to the oven for another hour. Remove from the oven again and check the meat is tender. I thought my sauce was a bit runny even though I’d added the flour at the beginning. I like a slightly thick sauce/gravy for a dish like this; I think it enhances the flavour. I removed the meat and vegetables to a plate with a slotted spoon. Then I made a beurre manié. This is a classic French way to thicken a stew or sauce. Combine equal quantities of plain flour and butter into a paste (I had 2 teaspoons of each).
Then break it in small pieces into the sauce you want to thicken and mix with a whisk. It may look at first as if it won’t mix in well and stay lumpy but I promise you it works. Just keep whisking and pretty quickly it will be absorbed and your sauce will be beautifully thickened. Return the meat and vegetables to the pan. At this point, I turned it all off as I made it early in the day, which is a good thing to do if you can because I think it really helps the flavour to develop. Then, near suppertime, I brought it to a simmer again and then popped it back into the oven for a while – at least quarter of an hour – to allow the meat to properly heat through and then stay warm. If you’re cooking for entertaining a few guests, you can turn keep it warm in a low oven for some time without it spoiling.
To accompany it I made a potato mash which I flavoured with Dijon mustard: nice floury potatoes boiled in salted water until tender, then drained and beaten until smooth with butter, milk and the mustard. The idea for this came from some of the Carbonnade recipes I looked at that included mustard in the stew, but I didn’t really fancy that so decided mustardy potatoes would make a great accompaniment. For my 3 very large potatoes for 3 people I added 2 teaspoons mustard, but adjust to your taste and the number of people you are cooking for. I also cooked some mangetout with petit pois.
Wow! It was so delicious – and a huge success with my guests. The flavour was so deep and rich. The beer, which had still tasted a little harsh when I checked the flavour halfway through as I added the mushrooms and parsley, had softened. It may not be quite a classic Carbonnade recipe, but close enough, and the thing about classics is they are classic because they are so good!!