If It’s Tuesday It Must Be…
What? No. No, no, no... BEL-GIAN. Belgian. OK, I feel much better now, although I'm watching a weather report right at the moment and there's that Alberta Clipper clippin' on down the road. Deepest, darkest winter, damp, dank, chill... just right down bad to the bone.
Gaaaah, what would be nice right now is some nice slow comfortable food, food to warm up those cold bones and make you feel like there will be a tomorrow tomorrow. It's just, well, there's no time again and I'm bored with the same ol' same ol' "Beef Burgundy." Or Goulash. Or Pot Roast. Or Chili. Or or or or, sigh. Well. How 'bout a kissin' cousin of "bourguignon" from the Flemish countryside called a Carbonnade? Sounds good, ifisaysomyselfandIdo.
Not any kind of fancypants wine this time, but a hearty dark beer (the Belgos have been known for their brewcraft for centuries, many are considered to be as great as fine wines), simmered with onion rings that stay intact, and a tinch of mellow sweetness to moderate any bitterness, brought to the party by perky tomato paste (a little lighter than the trad "liaison" of a roux or flour-oil thickener) and brown sugar. The braising liquid is thinnish by stew standards (Stew Standard, paging Stew Standard) any left over is the start of a beef vegetable soup, or throw in the leftover slaw described below for a cabbage borscht.
Reading through the recipe, it might seem like a patchke, but it's really quite simple if you see the recap. In the interest of time-saving, you can prep and cook the onions one night and finish the stew the next or even do the whole thing one night for the next. We're going to herb-roast some new potatoes at the same time the stew is stewin' so the time is a two-fer. A three-peat if you prep the slaw as well.
Slaw? What slaw? Not too much in season on the vegetable front, but in Northern China they call this the "white season" because that's when only "white" veggies are available. So I've designed a quick-quick braised cabbage slaw to round out the meal. It might not seem like much, but the liquids reduce down to a flavorful sauce/glaze (in part because of the "aromatics" of the celery and carrot) and provide a nice peppery complement to the stew.
1 12-oz. bottle dark beer
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 cups onion (sliced in) rings
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups stewing beef, cut in 1-1/2" to 2" cubes
2 tbsp. tomato paste (1 more tbsp., optional)
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. dried thyme (1 tbsp. fresh)
1 tsp. salt or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 bay leaves
Open the bottle of beer and pour into a bowl or glass. Don't bother avoiding a head, we want it become flat. Give it a stir to make it foam a bit every couple of minutes while we work on the onions. Or, if you have time, pour it out a couple hours before you start cooking to give it time to go fizzless.
Mix the oils--the idea is that you get the flavor from the olive oil and the "smoking point" (the temperature that oil smokes) from the vegetable oil. Pour the oils into a heavy 3-quart pot and heat them on medium-low.
Slice the onions into 1/2"-wide rings. How you do that is easy-sneezy.
Core out the root end by sticking in the tip of your knife and slicing around it. You can pull it out with the tip of the knife or leave it in 'cuz it'll drop after the first couple rings. Now, hold one end of the onion, and just slice from end to the other. See? Easy. That's that with that.
Toss the onions in the oils with the 1/2 tsp. salt. Let braise for about 10 minutes until onions rings have separated and are translucent. Turn up the heat a bit and continue cooking, stirring every couple of minutes. When they've colored a bit (another 10 minutes or so) and are completely limp and volume has reduced by half, remove them to a large plate.
While that's going on, prepare the beef. You don't need to be precise here, just eyeball the beef and trim to size. I know that the second joint on my index finger is just a little more than 1-1/2" so I don't need to waste time hauling out a measuring stick or tape or anything like that. I just look and compare and cut as needed. Again, easy easy easy--look at a few pieces, stir the onion rings, look at the beef, stir the onion rings, rinse, lather, repeat.
Now we brown the beef. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and add more oils (mixed half-and-half) to the pan if necessary. Then place the cubes/pieces in the onion-flavored oil in ONE (count it, one) layer, with at least 1/4" separation from the pieces. This is really important.
You need to give the pieces room to sear or else they'll steam and become an unappetizing gray. That's not SO very important in the long run because the "sauce" will color them, but we want to develop a "fond" (base) that will dissolve into the stewing liquid later. If you have to, brown the meat in batches.
OK, then. Leave the meat to brown on one side for two, three minutes and take the time to assemble the rest of the mis-en-place (order of the workplace, as we've discussed before). Don't turn it until you see juice beading up on the "up" side. Then flip it, be prepared for a bit of sizzle, and again, brown for a couple minutes. Then flip it around so it's browned on both sides. What's browned? Dark brown, with almost crusty streaks, that is to say, carbonized. When that's occurred, then toss the pieces around the pot until they're browned on all sides. Don't worry about the bottom of the pot--most of that schtuff will dissolve into the stewing liquid and b'lieve me, what's left won't be that difficult to scrub off later. Remove beef and put on the plate with the onions. (if necessary, repeat steps for the second batch and even third).
Now to assemble the stew. Take the dark beer that was set aside and pour it into the hot pan. Unless it's totally completely flat flat flat it will foam up. When that subsides, and beer is boiling, take a spatula and scrape the bottom of the pot. No need to be ultra-thorough about it, maybe 10-20 scrapes, just to get the fond up and into the beer.
Add the rest of ingredients, except for the onions and beef and bay leaves, and stir until mostly dissolved. Again, no need to be thorough on this, it's basically campfire cooking indoors. Then add the onions and beef, including any collected juices, and the bay leaves. Bring up to a boil, then turn down to a bare simmer (time to rhyme to get you through any stew: higher heat toughens the meat). Cover, and let cook s-l-o-w-l-y for 45 minutes. If you have the time, then soitenly, an hour won't hurt it at all. Check the carbonnade and if the liquid seems *too* thin, add another tbsp. tomato paste and blend in. Remove bay leaves (really, they won't soften and are inedible) and serve.
1. Make onion rings and braise them until semi-caramelized.
2. Brown beef.
3. Deglaze pan with beer.
4. Add rest of ingredients and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes (or longer). Remove bay leaves and serve.
ROASTED NEW POTATOES W/HERBS
1-1/2 pounds small red new potatoes aka "creamers", quartered
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. Italian herb mix
Preheat oven to 350:F.
As it says above, quarter the creamers and then toss them in the olive oil.
Lay them out on a tray in a single layer. Sprinkle on rest of ingredients.
Bake in oven for one hour.
None, 'cuz it's all right there.
BRAISED CABBAGE SLAW
3 cups coarsely shredded cabbage
2 stalks celery
1 carrot, shredded
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. soy sauce
1/3 + 2 tbsp. cup water or chicken stock
First, put the soy sauce into the other liquid, and add the salt and pepper. It'll make it easier to do it all at once later, rather than juggling shakers, spoons, and cups. Use a liquid measuring cup--the glass kind with a spout. Or any kind with a spout.
Cut the cabbage in half, from root end to ball end. Make a deep,
V-shaped cut at the core and lift it out (save it, it does make a nice crunchy snack for lunch the next day). Then lay the cabbage cut side down and cut into thirds, slicing again from root end to ball end.
Hold the cabbage thirds together and slice across the assembled "half" to make coarse shreds. Place in bowl.
Trim the celery stalks, saving the leaf end and stalk end for soup stock later. Slice across the celery, making little crescents about 1/4" wide, and with each slice give the knife a bit of a twist to separate the slices. You'll get the hang of it. At the stalk end, you may have to edit the crescents by cutting them in half. Add to bowl with cabbage.
Shred or grate the carrot, and again add to the veggie bowl.
Heat oil in a pan until it's close to smoking--a 'test' piece of cabbage should sizzzzle briskly.
Add slaw mixture to the hot pan and stir-toss-shallow-oil-fry (the complete translation for "stir-fry") until it's heated thoroughly and edges of cabbages are browning, about 2 minutes or so.
Almost done... if you haven't forgotten the seasonings in the measuring cup (I haven't), pour it into the slaw carefully, from arm's length so you're not over the pan. Toss slaw in liquid while it comes to a boil.
Reduce liquid until slaw is stewy-juicy but not dry dry dry. Taste for seasoning.
1. Slice cabbage into coarse shreds.
2. Slice celery into crescents.
3. Shred/grate carrot.
4. Mix together and stir-fry until cabbage is beginning to brown
5. Add seasoned braising liquid and reduce.