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Sunday, October 2, 2011

In Praise of Oktober: Cooking with Beer

Yes, you read that title right.  Friday was the start of Anchorage's Oktoberfest, which obviously doesn't have a patch on the German version but is a much-loved event.  Polka bands, dancing, beer songs, and of course lots and lots of different kinds of beer.

I'm not a beer drinker.  With that said, I like the flavor of beer in food.  It gives a rich, malty quality to chili, tastes good in mussel dishes and--most especially-- is the essential flavor in beef carbonnade.

I first learned about this dish when David and I went to Brussels last year.  Although I picked a great hotel near the subway line, it wasn't particularly close to any interesting restaurants.  We wandered around and around our first night there and finally went into a undistinguished-looking little café.  The menu wasn't huge or varied, but there was the expected large beer list and the best dish I ate in Brussels:  beef carbonnade.

This is essentially a beef stew flavored with dark beer, either Belgian or Belgian-style.  The Midnight Sun Brewery in Anchorage makes a dark Belgian-style ale called Monk's Mistress, and I appreciate the local connection.  Sure, you could always use Chimay, but it might be fun to try a local beer.

Seriously, who gets the job of naming these things? 
This is Oktoberfest food:  full-flavored and hearty, tasting of fall. 

Beef Carbonnade (Belgian Beef Stew with Dark Beer)
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and Bon Appetit Magazine

2 lbs. beef top round, trimmed of fat and tendon and cubed
All-purpose flour
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 large yellow onions, sliced into thick rounds
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. brown sugar
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4  bay leaves
20 oz. dark Belgian or Belgian-style beer
2 cups beef broth, plus more to thin stew if needed
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 chopped fresh parsley
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste

Dredge the beef cubes in flour.  Heat three tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven until shimmering.  Add the beef to the hot oil in batches--making sure not to overcrowd the cubes.  You don't want to overload the pan, otherwise the meat will steam rather than brown.  Brown each batch of cubes thoroughly, then drain on paper towels.

When the beef cubes are done, add the butter and last tablespoon of oil to the pan and stir to release the brown bits on the bottom.  Add the onions, sugar, the last tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar.  Sauté the onions until caramelized and soft, approximately 20 minutes.

When the onions are done, add the beef, beer, stock, garlic, bay leaves and thyme to the pot.  Cover the pot and simmer on the lowest heat for at least 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the beef is very tender.  Stir occasonally and add the last two tablespoons of red wine vinegar about half an hour from the end of the cooking time. 

The steam keeps it from being totally clear, but the stew thickens beautifully.  If you need to thin it, add extra stock.  If you like it thicker, use a flour-water slurry.
Add salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste.  Serve over hot egg noodles and sprinkle with parsley. 

Serves 4-6 as a main course.

Food/wine pairing:  Actually, beer might be the better choice here.  Drink a lighter-style Belgian ale, a German wheat beer or a stout.  If you prefer wine, try a Cabernet/Syrah blend such as Charles and Charles from Washington State.


  1. this beef dish looks great, very hearty, and I can imagine the subtle notes a good dark beer gives this dish. Great post!

  2. I can only imagine the wonder smells coming from your kitchen on this dish!

  3. Now that is one hardy stew making tzee Germans proud with the use of beer! Looks great.

  4. this sounds so comforting and delicious! Can't imagine how yummy this was!

  5. And here's the great news--like most stews, this one gets better the next day.

  6. Oh, this looks fantastic! I love beer in stews and have had a belgian carbonnade before and thought it was wonderful. Great to now have a recipe for it!

  7. This looks like a great fall dish! I'm not a beer drinker either, but like the flavor of it in food as well! I bet your whole house smelled wonderful after you made this!

  8. Oh, this looks incredible!! This is the perfect dinner for a cold, cold night...when you want the whole house to smell fabulous!

  9. Love cooking with beer and other libations. Cudos for using a local craft beer!

  10. Holy cow that looks amazing!

  11. I have not tried cooking anything with beer although I do enjoy drinking it once a while but have put a stop for its known for the bloating tummy.

    Thanks for the recipe and it gave me some idea on where to start although we don't eat beef.

  12. This beef look so delicious and full of flavor!

  13. This does indeed look delicious -- any time of year!I like cooking with beer, too! Often, it's my secret ingredient to stews and chili! I love this recipe. Thanks.