Quick! Name five famous Belgians/things from Belgium!
- Beer (and damned good beer at that)
- Johnny Halliday (ha! You thought he is French, didn’t you?!)
- Cricket (no, really, they claim to have invented the game…)
- Art Nouveau (check out some of Victor Horta‘s masterpieces here)
We lived in Brussels, Belgium from 2003 until last Summer. It was, on the whole, a wonderful experience. The Belgians *love* food, dining, drinking…most business is conducted over a lengthy (usually boozy) lunch. They are a nation of gourmands, who are able to draw from both French and Dutch culinary influences, leading to wonderful creations such as this rich, hearty, slightly sweet beef stew.
The secrets to this dish are simple: cook it long and low, use a decent dark beer and use gingerbread (the cakey kind). All will be revealed… The recipe below is one I have slightly adapted from Suzanne Vandyck’s wonderful book, The Food and Cooking of Belgium.
Be warned, this is not a difficult dish, but it does require a bit of preparation time and a lot of cooking time. The results are well worth the wait though, believe me! Serve with potatoes done in any fashion, although stoemp or frites would be traditional.
Ingredients: (makes enough for 4 adults and 2 small children :-))
- 500g stewing beef, cubed
- 20g all-purpose flour
- 25g butter
- 30ml vegetable oil
- 2 medium-sized onions or 1 large onion, sliced into rings (just don’t slice too thinly)
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 330ml dark beer (preferably a dark Belgian beer such as Chimay or Grimbergen Dubbel)
- 1 x bouquet garni
- 30ml red wine vinegar (actually, any decent vinegar will do the trick)
- 30ml soft light brown sugar
- 2 thick slices of rustic bread or spice cake/cakey gingerbread
- 30ml Dijon mustard
- handful of fresh, chopped parsley
- salt and pepper
1. Generously season the beef cubes with the salt and pepper, then coat them in flour. Set to one side.
2. Heat a large, heavy frying pan or cooking pot (like a le creuset casserole dish, for example, as long as it can be used on the stovetop) with a tight-fitting lid. Melt the butter and the oil over a medium heat. Add the cubed beef in batches, browning over a fairly high heat for about 4 minutes to seal. Remove each browned batch to a plate. Add more butter/oil if needed.
3. Add the onion to the fat and cook gently (turn down the heat) until translucent (about 6-8 minutes), then add the garlic and fry for 3 more minutes.
4. Return the meat to the pan and stir well to combine with the onions/garlic. Pour in the beer and bring the mixture to just below boiling point. Add the bouquet garni, vinegar and sugar. Stir and cover the pan with the lid. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 hours (or until the meat is tender and just about to start falling apart).
5. Spread the sliced bread/cake with the mustard and place in the pan ontop of the meat, mustard side down. Replace the lid and simmer the stew for another 20 – 30 minutes more, stirring occassionally until the meat is very tender. The bread/cake will absorb some of the juices and disolve to create a thick, rich and aromatic sauce.
6. Remove the bouquet garni and stir in the parsley. Serve with stoemp or frites.