This easy beef stew recipe comes from the region of Flanders, part of which is in northern France. Carbonnade makes a perfect stew to have simmering on the stove all afternoon long, enticing people to the table with its wonderful smell. The best part is that it requires little preparation and serving it with rice, noodles, or potatoes and a steamed vegetable, makes it a low effort meal.
The Region of Flanders
If you travel north of Paris, you will come upon a very flat part of the world. This plain, which begins in northern France and stretches the entire length of Belgium and on on up into Holland, is known as Flanders, and the people who live here speak Flemish. Where exactly the region of Flanders sits is not clear, and changes over time and who you talk to. Like many places in the world where there are no real geographical barriers, the political borders are somewhat arbitrary and do not necessarily reflect marked differences in culture.
If I were to say that this easy beef stew recipe is French, I would be stepping on a few Belgian toes, although it is certainly a speciality of many home cooks in northern France. Suffice it to say that carbonnade is a Flemish speciality and that a part of Picardy in the north of France is commonly called French Flanders.
Some well known French foods are claimed to have originated in Flanders, including:
Soupe à l'oignon: French onion soup. Of course there are several regions in France that claim ownership of this one.
Steak frites: This is the omnipresent French meal of steak and French fries. You will find it served all over France and I think there are French people that basically survive on it. Who actually invented the French fry is a bone of contention between the Belgians and the French, and you can learn more about that amusing story here: The History of French Fries.
Tarte au sucre: This is a sugar pie made with a yeast dough crust which is topped with cassonade (similar to raw sugar) and cream before baking. You can find
a sugar pie recipe here.
What Beer to Use
Since the only liquid in this easy beef stew recipe is from the beer, do pick a nice one. I've seen some recipes for carbonnade calling for heavy dark beers which can add to the sweetness, but you should be careful with this. If the beer tends to caramelize, you might want to leave out the sugar. Other dark beers risk to give the stew an undesirable bitterness.
I make this easy beef stew recipe with Kronenbourg beer, which is what the French call a bière blonde, similar to a pilsner. It is a light colored yet flavorful beer which when combined with a small amount of sugar gives the stew just the right amount of sweetness. If you don't feel like experimenting, choose a pilsner and add the sugar for good results with this recipe.
(optional: 4 slices slightly stale French bread spread on both sides with 2 tablespoons French mustard)
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a sturdy soup pot. Brown the meat on all sides, sprinkle with salt and pepper and then remove the meat and juices from pot and set aside.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the onions. Sautee for 15 minutes on low to medium heat, stirring frequently, and browning the onions slightly.
Stir in the garlic, sugar, and vinegar and cook for two more minutes. Sprinkle the flour on top of the onion mixture and stir to coat. Return the meat to the pot and then pour on the beer and add the bouquet garni.
Cover and let simmer on a very low boil for two hours or more. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove the bouquet garni before serving.
Many recipes for carbonnade call for placing pieces of mustard covered bread on top of the stew while it cooks. This melts into the carbonnade, adding more flavor to the stew.
Serve hot on top of rice, pasta, or potatoes.
If you have leftovers, this taste great reheated the next day.