Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wintery mix

There's a great big ice storm coming in tonight, and I've got one of the most comforting cold-weather dishes I know simmering away on my stove right now: carbonnades à la flamande. Which I always translate in my mind as "flaming hunks of carbon," but never mind. It's a Flemish beef stew with beer and onions. It's a mighty restorative: fearlessness in a bowl.

My recipe is mostly from Julia Child. Cut 3 1/2 pounds of chuck roast into reasonable-sized hunks, thinly slice two big onions, and mince 5 garlic cloves. Cover the bottom of a big heavy stockpot to about 1/16" with the fat of your choice (bacon or pork fat is best, peanut oil works ok) and heat till almost-but-not-quite smoking. Brown the beef in small batches, then set aside. Turn the heat down to medium-high and brown the onions in the fat for ten minutes or so. Stir in the garlic. Add the beef, 1 cup of beef stock, 2 tbsp. brown sugar, six springs of parsley, two big fresh bay leaves, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and enough beer to cover everything (Belgian ale is of course the most authentic, but I just don't have it in me to pour a bottle of Corsendonk out anywhere other than into my mouth. I used Yuengling lager.) Bring just to a boil, turn heat down to low, cover, and simmer 2 1/2 hours, by which time the meat should be fork-tender. Taste for salt -- if you use canned stock like I do, it probably won't need any. Combine 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch with 2 tbsp. wine vinegar, add to the pot, and simmer for a few minutes more to let the sauce thicken. Or do the same with a tablespoon or two of beurre manié (equal parts butter and flour smooshed together) instead of the cornstarch/vineger mixture. Give the stew a few healthy grinds of pepper and remove the parsley and bay leaves. Serve with boiled new potatoes, noodles, rice, or (again for maximum authenticity) slices of rye bread slathered with mustard. Serves 4-6.

I've also got my second loaf of bread undergoing its second rise right now. I followed Jim Lahey's original recipe this time. As John pointed out in the comments, Mark Bittman upped the amount of water from 1 3/4 to 1 5/8 cups when he did his New York Times article. The slightly drier version is worlds easier to handle and forms a ball easily. I'm curious to see how it comes out.

And I've got two cats looking very comfortable on the sofa, and I think I'll pour a glass of wine and go join them there now. I can hear sleet pattering the metal awning on my front porch.

6 comments:

T said...

Mmmmmm. That sounds SO good. If only I weren't allergic I'd give that one a try....

Is your bread any specific flavor?

Rob said...

I wonder if carbonnades of seitan would be worth trying.

Re the bread, I'm still working on the basic recipe. I'm interested in what can be done with just flour, yeast, and salt. I'll start playing with adjuncts when I'm more confident.

T said...

Bleh. That doesn't sound very appetising....

Rob said...

You mean the seitan, right? :-) As a stand-in for lamb or chicken, I think seitan has a lot to recommend it. I've done a pretty impressive faux lamb curry with the stuff, and I was actually thinking of making a seitan navarin (a lamb stew with root vegetables) for you and Jenny when you come down. The tricky thing about the carbonnades treatment is that I'd want to simmer all the ingredients for about an hour before adding the seitan, so the onions would disintegrate into the sauce properly. But it might work pretty well.

t said...

Oh, I was thinking of tempeh. Seitan is another beast altogether! Though it seems to me that carbonnades of seitan would be missing *all* the fun, not havin the beef in there adding to the flavor...but navarin sounds like it might work better. What do I know, though? Really, I'm sure whatever you cook for us will be brilliant! (Except that it's worth me mentioning that it's possible I still won't be able for tomato or fried anything by then. Sad but true.)

Mike said...

Another good surrogate chicken (esp. in curries and Sichuan-type stir-frys) is apple.