I'm sorry that I've been a bit quiet lately but sadly life's been keeping me out the kitchen and out of touch.
Spring is finally here but, before we forget about the need for warming beef casseroles during the colder months, here's one of my favourite comforting beef dishes - although this recipe works at any time of the year, honest. My version sticks fairly close to the classic Carbonade Flamande recipe, or at least to the one I learnt in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. There are plenty of variations around so please don’t shout at me if it doesn’t sound authentic or even truly ch’ti to you.
The problem that I have with a lot of beer-based casseroles is that they can become too bitter for my taste. The clever thing about this dish is that the flavours are balanced by adding pain d’épices, which not only adds sweetness, but also adds a gentle hint of spice and helps to thicken the sauce. If you can’t find pain d’épices then you could make your own (my recipe is here) or you could use a slice of ginger cake instead, perhaps with a little honey added to the mustard.
Opinions can be deeply divided on which type of beer to use for this dish. The version I first came across used a bière blonde and I stick to that because I know it works well for me. I used a Belgian beer on this occasion but there are a number of British and French beers available that are brewed in similar ways and will work just fine.
This should serve 4.
800 g beef shin (or another slow-cooking cut), in large chunks
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped (save the outer layer for the bouquet garni)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks
Bouquet garni made up of 3 sprigs of thyme and 2 bay leaves wrapped in the outer layer of leek and tied
1 tbsp dark brown soft sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
500 ml bière blonde
1 thick slice pain d’épices
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 140°C. In a large, lidded casserole dish, brown the meat in batches. To do this you could add a little oil or butter to the dish, but I was told that traditionally you should always use lard and I’m not arguing. Once browned, set the meat aside, add a little more fat (well OK, lard) to the dish if it needs it and fry the onions, leek and carrots gently for around 10 minutes. Stir regularly and don’t let the veg burn or darken too much.
Stir in the sugar and vinegar. Put the meat back in the casserole and season with a little salt and a generous amount of pepper. Pour over the beer and tuck in the bouquet garni. The beer should just cover the meat. Spread the mustard generously over both sides of the pain d’épices and nestle it down in amongst the meat and veg. Bring up to simmering point then lay a sheet of dampened greaseproof paper directly on top of the mixture, put the lid on the casserole dish and place in the oven. Allow the carbonade to cook for 3 hours.
After this time, the meat should be very tender and the pain d’épices should have dissolved. Discard the bouquet garni and give the dish a thorough stir to ensure that the flavours are combined and the pain d’épices thickens the sauce evenly. Personally I like this dish served with mashed potato, especially if there’s some mashed celeriac mixed in with it. I'm told that chips might be more authentic, though.