Saturday, January 14, 2006

Belgian beef + links

So this is what became of the raw meat from the other day. It's a Carbonades Flamandes, or Carbonnade, or whatever. It's a dish of beef cooked in ale. Flamandes means Flemish and since Belgium is a beer country, their beef stew is a beer dish. Making Carbonades was in part an excuse to buy more of my latest ale of choice, the Belgian-style Ommegang that I used to cook short ribs a few weeks ago. I decided after that success to try cooking using the Ommegang in something like a proper European slow food recipe and I recalled seeing such a thing in a blog. (I can also now report that it would be worth finding culinary excuses to buy the same brewery's Hennepin ale, a light blonde to Ommegang's dark amber.)

I have a habit of buying ingredients at the store, then coming home and finding recipes to "follow" in cooking them. This is the sort of thing for which the term ass-backwards was invented. Perhaps I prefer the challenge of coming up with novel variations and ingenious substitutions to strict directions-following. To my amazement, when I was ready to start cooking I found that real recipes for a Belgian beef stew call for such things as pain d'├ępice, cassonade, and fresh pork fat. Some say you can substitute bread spread with mustard for the pain d'├ępice or brown sugar for cassonade. Well I didn't have most of these things on hand and, to tell you the truth, I'm still not sure exactly what some of them are or whether I can get them at the stores around here. I was a bit wary of adding sweet ingredients to a dish already containing onions, beer, and beef, but I would never think twice about that kind of thing in an Asian recipe so I kind of went along. I used gingersnaps, a standard thickener in another beef stew, sauerbraten, in place of both the bread and the sugar. I held off on adding vinegar, another standard addition, until after the dish had cooked to see if I really thought it would need brightening up. It did so I added it.

This stew gave me another opportunity to play around with salting meat ahead of time. Rather than salt the meat just before browning it I salted it (when I took the elephant picture) a day ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge. Good results every time I've tried this and not much surprise there. If you give the salt the time, it will penetrate beyond just the surface of the meat. I've done the same with chicken and short ribs and I might also give it a try with fish, which might be a kind of halfway-there gravlax. Marinating (not to mention brining) accomplishes much the same thing.

The way it works:
Cut up two-plus lbs. beef chuck, well-trimmed of fat, salt it liberally, leave it aside for a day;
bown in peanut oil in a hot pan, I did this in three batches so as not to crowd the pan;
add two big onions, sliced, to the hot pan and stir them around (here I also added some flour, as per many a recipe, and this was definitely not necessary--the dish turned out quite thick);
add Belgian ale, the better part of one of those big Belgian ale bottles, and deglaze the pan, scraping the surface with a wooden spatula;
return the beef to the pot along with gingersnaps, about ten, crumbled up coarsely, a bouquet garni containing bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and parsley, and water enough barely to cover the meat.
Simmer for a few hours, until the beef falls apart under gentle fork pressure. I cooked for about three hours in a covered pot in a 275 degree oven.
When it's done, remove the bouquet and add a few splashes of red wine vinegar. Taste to see if it needs salt and pepper It's better a day or two after cooking so don't be in a hurry. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

We ate this with a green salad and some crusty bread. I liked my short ribs better but I would make this again, probably without the gingersnaps. I don't think it needs so much thickening or sweetening. (Are the Belgian people thumbing their collective nose at this ignorant pronouncement? Where ya at, foodies of Belgium?)


Now for some links on a theme quite different from anything to do with Carbonades. I collected these a few days ago but neglected to post them so they're a little stale. Just pretend today is Thursday and you'll be in link heaven.

How big should a bagel be? (Don't skip the comments to this one.)

Because every holiday needs its movie, Passover and Purim flicks are coming soon to a theater near you. (The Passover movie "When Do We Eat?" is set at a seder. Hilarity ensues when Papa is slipped a dose of ecstasy. That voice in my head saying "vey is mir!" would be my mother's.)

Might a plate of shawarma rouse the Israeli PM back to consciousness? (I guess it's not looking good.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The beer makes the beef sweet, I don't know how else to say it. Neither beer, nor beef, by itself tastes sweet, yet the combo is dynamic. Now with ginersnaps, you're invoking what folks in Baltimore would call sour beef, other people call "Saurbraten", as you well know. My experience with (chuck roast cubed) beef and beer is that it can absorb as much onion as you care to devote to the task.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm. sounds good.
R. Van Waerebeek, my guru on all things Belgian, opines that the use of pan d'epices and/or bread and butter is a variant among many. Other variants, she says, include the addition of kidneys with the beef (crustless steak and kidney pie?)

Everyone has his or her own "family secret" version, she says. Her recipe (no longer secret, I guess) has neither, but does have a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and one of red currant jelly. I am thinking about making me some, and trying the substitution of the rosemary jelly I made last month. (It was really good on some little cornish hens I roasted with root vegs, for a glaze). No suitable beef in the house at the moment, though.

Re: bagel size
No real bagels remain in Pittsburgh area since Bageland closed. All are pouffy and false. We mourn and eat Bruegger's giant pillows with broken hearts.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beer also makes the beef tender.

Have pity on me. There are no (count 'em NONE ZERO) real bagels in Amsterdam. All bagels here are frozen. I know that sounds like a story about bad food distribution in a developing country, which is exactly what it is...
Excellent gratuitous latke picture awhile back. Mmmmmm.

Did you fast on the 10th of Tevet?



4:40 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

I never fast. And didn't I read something on Culiblog about going out for drinks after your Kol Nidre service? That detail about the bagels is so sad. You should try baking them yourself. The Dutch don't know what they're missing.

Thanks for the tips, Doug and Lindy. I must have some kidneys one of these days...

8:54 PM  
Blogger femme feral said...

have you ever made homemade bagels, mzn? I'd love to try it, but the whole boiling part seems difficult.

I love those st. urbain bagels in toronto. they're nice and sweet.

we don't have much for bagels in austin. the breakfast taco rules here. and the pan dulce is pretty good.

9:08 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

I have made bagels, FF, just once. The boiling part isn't at all difficult. They only boil for a minute or so and that's what gives them a glossy crust (and helps seeds to stick). The ones I made were ok, not great. I would need to tinker with the process and ingredients to get them right.

Those bagels in Toronto are Montreal-style. I love them too and the ones in Montreal are even better. When I was going to school there we used to trek off to the Fairmount bakery late at night--they never close--for bagels hot out of the oven. So so good.

9:19 PM  

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