Carbonnade flamande au pain d’épice
This recipe could not have come at a better time. We’ve been experiencing some fabulously warm weather here in NYC the past few weeks, but alas, this weekend, to celebrate the Spring Equinox, a dip in the thermometer and another snowfall is in the forecast. The heat in my house has been turned back on and all the windows are tightly closed. So it’s only apropos that we recreate this hearty stew on this last, cold weekend of winter.
Beef carbonnade is popular in Belgium and in the north of France where the winters are long and the ales are plentiful. The “winter warmer” beers are brewed to be stronger, richer and more full-bodied and taste great when you are curled up next to a roaring fire while you are wrapped in your snuggliest blanket or here, where it’s used to slowly braise a piece of meat into tamed tenderness.
The crucial choice will be, of course, which beer or ale you choose to use for your carbonnade. The variety will really transform the character of the dish depending on the beer’s profile. Needless to say, a good Belgian ale, perhaps of the Trappist variety, such as Chimay, would really be the best choice, but another, with good character, particularly an amber ale, will work just as well.
The distinctive feature of this dish is the spice bread coated with a thin layer of mustard (I used Maille Dijon, of course) that is used to flavor and thicken the sauce. Using the French classic, pain d’épices, a deeply-infused bread spiced with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and honey, it’s reminiscent of gingerbread or Lekach, a honey-cake, and is intensely aromatic. The bread’s distinctive flavor improves with an overnight rest, giving the flavors time to mellow.
As the dish cooks, the bread breaks down and melts into the braising liquid, providing a thick, rich and slightly sweet and sour sauce that clings to the tender hunks of beef.
While the stew is simmering, during its last hour, you have just enough time to make a batch of herbed fresh pasta to go alongside.
Get the recipes for Belgian Beef Stew with Beer & Spice Bread on pages 198 and 293 of My Paris Kitchen. The herbed fresh pasta can be found on page 230.
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