The best damn beef stew in the world

March 19, 2013

Similar to above illustration; that version was over egg noodles. I forgot to shoot this one.

Similar to above illustration; that version was over egg noodles. I forgot to shoot this one.

The first time I ever made carbonnades a la flammande, I thought I had reached a new pinnacle in culinary excellence, and indeed, I had. I had discovered the wonderful things that dark beer and beef broth, accompanied by a a little mustard and brown sugar and rosemary, and four hours in the oven could do to beef and onions. And it’s a wonderful thing.

I’ve made carbonnades at least once a winter since I discovered it in the winter of 2008-09, and occasionally more than that. But last week, I made absolutely the best edition of it I have ever, ever made. Reflecting over the assorted steps and ingredients, I decided it was no one single thing, but rather a number of small things, that came out to be so much more than the sum of their parts.

First, this was the first time I’ve used one of my Mountain Pastures grass-fed chuck roasts. That’s good for several deliciousness points, right there. Second, I cut the roast into smaller chunks — probably close to one-inch dice, rather than the two-inch I normally do, so the ratio of browned exterior pieces was greater.

Then I caramelized — really caramelized — the onions, rather than just going until they were nice and soft and starting to turn a little golden. Nope, these babies got a good skillet tan on them. I even added a tiny sprinkle of sugar to help them along.

And I changed beer. I have usually used Newcastle, because it’s one of the darker beers I enjoy drinking, and I’m fine with buying a sixpack, using one in the stew, and drinking the rest. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.) I have used Negro Modelo when that was the only dark beer I had on hand. But this time, when I was looking for beer to drink, not cook with, my liquor store guy had recommended Green Flash Brewing Co.’s double stout. So I bought it.

For drinking, I’m underwhelmed. Didn’t much like it at all. But I am here to tell you, that stout came into its own in the company of the beef and onions.

Finally, I served it over cheese grits, instead of the traditional egg noodles that I can’t eat due to the gluten intolerance. I’d been putting it over rice, which wasn’t bad, or mashed potatos, which were pretty good. But the grits — oh, the grits, with their creamy essence of Gouda, were to die for.

So without further ado, here’s the way you make the best damn beef stew in the world.

  • 1 3-pound chuck roast, well marbled
  • 4 large or 6 medium onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • olive oil
  • a sprinkle of white sugar (maybe a teaspoon)
  • 2 six-inch or so sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 12-oz bottle Green Flash Brewing Co. Double Stout
  • 1 1/2 tbsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch

Cut the roast up into one-inch dice. This is aided if you, as I did, inadvertently lay out a pork roast instead of a beef roast to thaw the night before. At that point you curse, find the chuck roast, put it in the microwave to defrost, reseal the pork roast in a vacuum bag and throw it back in the freezer, ignoring the voice of Mrs. Mullins, your 4-H leader from junior high, who is shrieking at you from beyond the grave that you are consigning your family and anyone who eats dinner with you to the agonies of food poisoning and everyone will die a horrible death. Sorry, Mrs. Mullins. I haven’t killed anybody yet from refreezing thawed meat. I’ll take my chances.

Anyway, you impatiently defrost the chuck roast until it gives a little bit, and you can cut through it with that oh-so-wonderfully-sharp Japanese knife you brought back home last fall, and because it’s partially frozen, it’s easier to cut in littler squares.

Actually, I don’t guess you’d have to thaw the pork roast first to accomplish that.

Anyway. When the beef is diced up, sprinkle it with a little kosher salt (or Gentile salt, if you prefer; I don’t think the beef cares), and more liberally with some freshly ground pepper. Brown it over medium-high heat in your iron skillet, in a couple of batches so you don’t crowd it, until it’s got a nice deep color to it. We do not want gray meat here. Move it over into your Dutch oven as it browns, and while it’s browning, slice your onions into thin half-moons to be caramelized. Throw them right into the skillet where the beef was, and where its drippings still reside, cut the heat back to medium, and busy yourself cleaning the kitchen or emptying the dishwasher or something. Just give the onions a little stir every once in a while.

When they’ve gotten good and soft and are starting to look kinda the color of Lindsey Lohan’s hair — oh, wait a minute, I should have said which week, but you get the idea — add the garlic, sprinkle on a bare teaspoon of regular table sugar and bump the heat up just maybe one notch. Watch that you don’t burn them; you just want a nice brown. Add them in with the beef.

In the alternative, if you’re one of those who plans in advance, you can slice the onions up in the crock-pot the night before, throw in a quarter-stick of butter, turn it on low and go away. The next morning, you can brown the beef and just throw it and the other stuff in the crock-pot and let it cook all day.

In any event, pour in the beer and the beef broth and add the rosemary and bring that baby up to a boil, while you’re preheating the oven to 300. Turn off the surface unit, put a good tight lid on the Dutch oven, and slide it in the oven.

It’s a good idea to check it at about 2 hours, and again at 3, to make sure it’s not dry. If it is, add more beer, or more beef broth, or both. Or just add water.

When it’s cooked a good 4 hours, bring it back to the top of the stove, over medium low heat. Use a coffee cup and dip out a half-cup or so of broth. Set it aside. Add  the mustard and brown sugar to the pot and stir. Put two tablespoons of cornstarch in the cup of broth, and whisk or stir until it’s smooth; pour that back in the pot. Cover and take down to just barely above a simmer for another 30 minutes, until it’s glossy and thick and rich and smooth and — Sweet Baby Jesus, but it’s good.

Put it over buttered egg noodles (the traditional way) or over spaetzle, if you are of a mind to make that. Or mashed potatos. Or rice, or just spooned over a big thick slab of homemade bread. It’s adaptable. It’s also marvelous.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em make you some of this, before winter gets completely gone.





4 Responses to “The best damn beef stew in the world”

  1. Kate Says:

    I was the lucky houseguest who was treated to this great meal. Thanks, Kay!

  2. Toy Lady Says:

    Grits – it’s brilliant!

    Going on my list of “once more before spring”. . .

  3. cleavelin Says:

    Now ain’t ya glad you forgot to send that double stout home with me (IIRC you’d mentioned that, since I liked it well enough to drink)? 😉

  4. […] Frequent blog commenter Kay reminded me  that I has promised myself that we were going to do carbonnades a la flammade with […]

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