Even in Provence it gets cold, especially in the evening, and the idea of a beef and beer casserole has had particular appeal this winter, to warm the kitchen and ourselves. Finally, one got made.
Carbonade de boeuf is traditional in Northern France and Belgium, what might be termed Flanders, an area famous for its bleak weather – and its beers. You don’t need a special beer to cook this, though one might wash it down a treat. For myself, I’d rather have a robust red wine.
Along with the brown sugar, vinegar, black peppercorns, and onion, the beer and long slow cooking make for beef that melts in the mouth while diffusing wonderful hints of all those flavours – it’s a far cry indeed from leathery, tasteless fried steak.
Lard is the traditional cooking medium, olive oil less authentic but arguably nicer. The stale bread acts as a primitive thickener, but can be omitted without problems. If you have time, cook the carbonade for as long as 3–4 hours, in a lower oven.
Baked potatoes go well especially as there should be lots of sauce. Other possible accompaniments are red cabbage and apple, or a potato, chicory, and bacon salad – for recipes for these see the Book.
- 300–400 g onions
- lard or olive oil
- 800 g – 1 kg lean braising steak, in thin slices, cut on the bias, if possible
- 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 1 tbsp wine vinegar
- 2–3 sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 heaped tsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
- 500 ml light beer or lager
- 1 slice of stale bread, optional
- 1 tbsp strong Dijon mustard
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3/170°C.
Slice the onions thinly.
On top of the stove, heat enough lard or olive oil to cover the base of a heavy casserole, and brown the beef on both sides, a couple of pieces at a time, adding more fat or oil as necessary between batches.
When all the meat is done, toss the onion in the same pot, having reduced the heat and added more lard or oil, until they are soft (about 8–10 min), then stir in the brown sugar and the vinegar and cook a further 1–2 minutes, not more.
Return the beef to the pot, layering it alternately with the onion. Place the thyme and bay leaf in the middle and season with salt and the crushed peppercorns. Pour in enough beer to cover by just under 1 cm and crumble in the bread.
Cover, place in the oven, and cook for a minimum of 1½ h.
Away from the heat, work the mustard into the sauce, taste, and serve from the casserole, or, if you prefer, transfer the meat to a hot dish and keep it warm while you blend in the mustard and adjust the seasoning. Pour the finished sauce over the meat having removed the thyme and bay leaf.