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Friday, October 8, 2010

What on earth is a carbonnade?

A carbonnade is a stew that originated in Belgium, made mostly of beef, beer, and onions.

I did a search and used the first recipe I found online.

The recommended beer is a Belgian ale, but I used Heineken because that's what I had.

Don't buy stew meat; Buy a roast on sale and cut it into cubes yourself. Add salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a cast iron skillet; At the same time, heat 2 tbsp of butter in a cast iron pot.

In the skillet, brown the meat; In the pot, brown* sliced onions.

*OK, I'm told the onions must not brown but to cook slowly while stirring. The recipe I found online said to brown. It must have been wrong.

When the onions are done, add some flour and stir until onions are coated and flour is lightly browned.

Then add beef stock and beer. Scrape bottom of pot to loosen browned bits.

Now add the browned beef from the skillet. Deglaze the skillet with a little liquid, and pour into the pot.

Add thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns*, onion powder, garlic powder and black pepper to pot.

*I won't be adding peppercorns to any stew again. Too spicy! Grind them for flavor.

The recipe did not call for potatoes and carrots, but I wanted to add them.

So I put some oil in the skillet and cooked the cut up potatoes and carrots for a few minutes, then added to the pot.

Since the pot appeared to have more liquid than I wanted, I cooked uncovered over medium heat for about an hour to reduce the liquid, and added some Wondra flour.

Then I reduced the heat, covered and simmered for another couple of hours.

Added some brown sugar and yellow mustard, stirred it in, simmered some more.

Now it's being left on the stove to cool.

It's still a little thinner than I'd like, but will hopefully thicken as it cools.


  1. Arghhh! no, no, no, the onions must NOT brown! they must be cooked slowly, stirring all the while, until they loose their pungency and reduce to a fine, sweet, velvety softness. This is KEY to a good carbonnade. As for the other ingredients, I think I need to go lie down with a damp cloth over my eyes...
    (winking at your adaptability, gal)

  2. Really no browning onions? The recipe said to brown them. I guess it wasn't an authentic recipe.

    As far as Heineken... well, Belgium from what I hear, has some dutch influence, and I think that's a dutch beer. (I don't drink it)

    If you do a google search on carbonnade, that's the first recipe that comes up.

    The potatoes and carrots were indeed my addition.

    Also the thyme was supposed to be fresh but I added dried.

  3. The recipe had it wrong. The onions should never brown. They should be slowly sauteed, with frequent stirring, until they become yellow, translucent, and finally reduce to a lovely velvety mush. The end result is perceptible. Now, browning the onions isn't going to absolutely ruin the dish, but this is one of those subtle distinctions, such as the liver cooking method, that makes a noticeable (though refined) difference in the outcome. (Google's algorithms are skewed.)

  4. one thing I will not do again is put whole peppercorns in anything unless a recipe calls for it... too spicy! I thought it would make it more flavorful. ground black pepper is the way to go.

  5. Here is the way carbonnade should go, and why:

    Two-Skillet Carbonnade

    “Yuck,” you might say upon reading this dish’s main ingredients. “How coarse,” you might conclude. But if you follow along carefully, you will find that the onions have exchanged their bite for a smooth sweetness, and the beer has mellowed everything out—you included, if you save back one bottle to drink as you cook with the other. (Never cook with a beer [or a wine] that you would not serve at the table.)

    12 oz. pale ale or lager
    1 large, sweet white onion (Vidalia, Walla-Walla, or Mayan)
    4 tablespoons butter
    ¾ to 1 lb. stew beef, cut in large cubes
    pinch of turbinado sugar
    1 bay leaf

    Into a medium-size ceramic mixing bowl, pour beer. Allow to stand at room temperature until it goes flat.

    Peel and cut onion in half crosswise, then cut halves into thin slices. In a #8 or #9 cast iron skillet for which you have a lid, heat 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add onion slices. Stir as they sauté. Do not let the onions brown. You want them to end up soft, yellow, translucent, and slightly mushy.

    While the onions are very gently sautéing, dry the chunks of stew meat on a piece of paper towel. Salt and pepper to taste, then dredge lightly with flour on all sides.

    In a separate cast iron skillet (a #10 is good for this purpose) heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. When butter is sizzling, brown the pieces of floured stew beef on all sides, being careful not to crowd them. Remove pan from heat, remove browned beef cubes and set aside (I use the inverted lid from the first skillet so none of the juices are lost). Now use about ½ cup of the flat beer to deglaze the skillet, pouring the results into the rest of the beer in the ceramic bowl.

    If you have been diligent about stirring the onions, by now they should be reduced to a fine translucency. Add the browned beef cubes, all of the beer, and the bay leaf. Stir well. Cover.

    Roast covered skillet in a slow (225º) oven for 2½ hours. The meat should now be fork-tender. Serve with boiled new potatoes. Serves 3–4.


  6. No "yuck", no "how coarse", looks pretty good to me.

    I always use vidalia onions if I can help it.

    We have "sugar in the raw" that Jeff likes to put in his coffee. That's turbinado I think.

    As for "pale ale or lager", I don't know much about beer since I don't drink it, but Heineken is what Jeff drinks; He doesn't go for standard American brands. Is there any specific brand you recommend? I assume Amber beer is out?

  7. Anything Jeff likes to drink is going to work in his Carbonnade. I'm not sure how a heavy porter or stout would do, though. Maybe one of your many followers will try it and let us know.

    Yes, sugar in the raw is turbinado. Unlike highly refined white sugar, it actually has some nutrients left and a nice little flavor edge. (I don't even keep refined white sugar in the house.) Adding the pinch of sugar enhances the nearly caramelized effect the onions undergo with long, slow sauteing.

    The key with the Carbonnade is the change the onions go through when they're cooked like this. All the pungency volatizes with the low, slow, frequently stirred not-browning, so by the time this dish comes out of the oven, onion slices are no longer recognizable; rather, they've been transmuted into something more nearly resembling a compote. Much more refined than the dish sounds like upon first reading.