You probably know Belgium is famous for beer and chocolate, but the country has also produced some iconic contributions to cookbooks. One of the best is Carbonnade a la Flamande, a very old, rich, and beautifully basic farmer’s stew.
Unlike a Guinness Irish Stew that includes carrots and sometimes potatoes, a Carbonnade’s rustic origins are a combination of German and French influences. The dish is made with simple ingredients that were readily available to the common folk. Traditionally, beef chuck, onions, and Belgian ale are used in this mildly sweet-sour dish. I decided to make use of a large top round of elk that was given to me through the generosity of Mark LaBarbera, Founder of the Outdoor Heritage Education Center.
When I finally got around to unwrapping the cut from the butcher paper, some freezer burn had set in. I decided to use it anyway and see if the ale, spices, and Dutch oven braising could overcome the mild burn. So, after tenderizing with a Jaccard Meat Maximizer (more on that later), I forged ahead with a recipe for Carbonnade and a few Belgium inspired side dishes: smashed red potatoes, and charred Belgian endive. With a complete absence of freezer burn taste, the result was a comforting and rustic stick-to-your-ribs Sunday meal sure to induce a nap on a cold winter’s day.
2.5-3.0 lbs of elk round steak
2 bottles of Belgian-style ale (I used a blonde Abbey ale by Leffe, but I recommend using a darker ale)
6 tbsp. butter
6 slices thick cut smokey bacon, diced
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 medium onions, sliced thin longwise
1/3 cup flour
1 cup venison or beef stock
2-3 tbsp. brown sugar
2-3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
5 sprigs thyme
5 sprigs Italian parsley, plus extra for garnishing
3 sprigs tarragon
Tenderize the steak mechanically (Stay tuned for a post on Jaccarding cheap cuts of game to make them butter tender.), trim off gristle and goop, and cut into 1-2 inch cubes. Dice bacon into lardoons.
Measure out thyme, bay leaf, parsley, tarragon, salt & pepper.
Slice onion and chop the garlic fine. Season the elk with salt and pepper, and toss in flour. Add three tablespoons of butter to a 6-7 quart Dutch oven and brown elk cubes in batches over medium-high heat. Transfer browned meat to a plate and set aside. Add bacon lardoons to the pan and cook until crispy golden brown.
Add butter, onions, and garlic and cook until onions are caramelized. Caramelizing takes away the intense flavor of the onion replacing it with a sweet umami flavor that is rich, deep and silky. Caramelizing is done over medium heat and cannot be rushed. This step will take 30-40 minutes.
Once the onions have reached perfection, taste the beer and then add what remains of one bottle to the pan, scraping the sides and bottom to deglaze. This will take about 5 minutes.
Return the elk to the Dutch oven, add second bottle of beer, (tasting as you go), thyme, bay leaf, parsley, tarragon, brown sugar, stock, and two to three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar depending on your preference. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for about two hours.
Ladle the elk carbonnade over buttered, fresh egg noodles, or Spaetzle, and serve. I tossed mine with some lacy fennel fronds that I had in the refrigerator, and served with charred Belgian endive and crispy smashed red potatoes. Recipes below.
**Crispy Smashed Red Potatoes **
9-12 small red potatoes
2 strips crispy bacon
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
Boil potatoes until fork tender. Drain, and refrigerate to cool.
Generously drizzle olive oil on cookie sheet and spread evenly. Place potatoes on pan and make 5 or 6 small knife slits on the sides of the spuds. Press down gently with a cup, ramekin, or glass to flatten.
Brush with more olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, bacon bits, and ½ the thyme and parsley. Pop in a 450 degree preheated oven and bake for approximately 35-45 minutes. If you want to, you can turn spuds carefully about half way through. Remove when golden brown, top with a dollop of sour cream, the reserved thyme, parsley and serve.
2-3 heads Belgian endive, halved lengthwise (available in the produce aisle)
Parmigiano Reggiano shavings
While the grill is heating to medium high, run endive halves under cold water. Blot dry and rub with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Place cut side down on grill grate and cook until lightly charred. This will take about 5-10 minutes depending on your grill.
Remove from grill, drizzle with a bit more olive oil, squeeze some fresh lemon juice on each, and top with Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.