By Joe Dizney
I was remembering a comment made some time ago by my (female) friend C.C. about men, women, food and how the arts of the hearth used to be the exclusive province of the fairer sex but she’d noticed a distinct postprandial trend at group dinners where the ladies would retire for conversation (family, arts and letters; world affairs, even sports) and the guys ended up in the kitchen talking food.
It reminded me of my time-tested trans-Atlantic alliance with a Belgian friend, Luc (aka The Gent From Ghent), based in a large part on a shared reverence of all things edible. And while our references couldn’t be more disparate — I am a generation (or two) older, South Louisiana-raised yet living (and eating) on the Hudson now for 30+ years — I cherish his lobbying for the primacy of Flemish cuisine — moules-frites, Waterzooi, stoemp even.
We come together firmly over one recipe in particular: Carbonnade Flammandes, a low-and-slow cooked stew of beef, lots of caramelized onions and beer — man food. And although we may be culturally different we are both curious and precocious cooks prone to adapting tradition to the specifics of locale and season.
Luc’s (as he tells me) “award-winning” carbonnade calls for gloriously indigenous ingredients: sirop de Liege (a thick paste-jam of apple and pear), a very specific refermented Gueuze lambic ale (also redolent of pear), endive (witloof, or “white leaf” in the native tongue) and white mushrooms. And where the traditional recipe specifies beef, The Gent From Ghent suggests an even manlier combination of beef and pork.
Here in the 21st century where the exotic is commonplace and available from Amazon (yes, even sirop de Liege), here in the Hudson Valley I’ve taken license to substitute locally and readily available ingredients. Since this is a slow braise and very forgiving of substitutions, rather than sirop I’ve used dried apples, pears and porcini mushrooms to add sweetness and depth. In place of the lambic I’ve substituted locally made hard cider (for mine, I used Doc’s Draft pear hard cider from Warwick, N.Y., although any good craft cider or amber/dark beer will do).
And where Luc’s version includes endive in the cooking and his final plate would probably include requisite frites, I suggest plating the carbonnade atop a mound of buttered egg noodles and accompanying it with an endive salad (try it with sliced white button mushroom and toasted walnuts, dressed with a plain mustard vinaigrette to which you might add a tablespoon or so of cream) for a late-winter feast.
And if this sounds all too exotic let me assure you it’s not: this week’s recipe was kitchen-tested at the insistence and with the assistance of my 23-year-old nephew, R., new to the area, freedom and newly on his own in the world (#cutthecord) looking to develop some man-skills in the kitchen.
And so the torch is passed.
Carbonnade in The Manner of The Gent From Ghent
Adapted from Carbonnade au Gueuze et sirop de Liège, M. Luc Beenaert; serves 6 to 8.
1 small (14½ ounce) can beef broth
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 pound cubed pork stew meat (boneless shoulder or roast)
1 pound cubed chuck stew meat
½ cup flour (to dust the meat)
2 tablespoons butter
3-4 large white (or yellow) onions, sliced or chopped coarsely
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 garlic cloves
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped in a large dice
2 teaspoons dried thyme
½ cup dried pears, apples (or a combination), chopped coarsely
2-3 cups Hudson Valley hard cider (or craft beer)
Salt and pepper
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Egg noodles (prepared as per package, drained and buttered for serving)
1. Reconstitute the mushrooms: bring dried mushroom and beef broth to a boil. Lower to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for another 10 minutes. Strain; reserve broth. Chop mushrooms roughly and set aside.
2. Brown the meat: In a gallon zip lock bag, season the flour with salt and pepper. In batches, add beef and pork cubes to the bag, coat with flour, shake off excess and lightly brown meat in an oiled Dutch oven in a single layer. Do not overcrowd. This will take a couple of batches. Remove each with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. Deglaze pan with reserved mushroom-beef broth to get the crusty bits. Strain and reserve.
4. Clean and dry Dutch oven. Heat butter and an equal amount of olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sprinkle sugar over the top. Cook stirring occasionally for 20 minutes or so until onions begin to brown/caramelize. Add garlic, stirring for another 2 minutes or so. Add carrots, reserved mushrooms and thyme, cooking for another couple of minutes.
5. Add reserved meat and dried fruit, incorporating until just mixed and heated. Add reserved stock and enough cider or beer to cover by a bare ½ inch. Bring to a boil, lower to a bare simmer and cook stovetop, covered, for 2-to-2½ hours until meat is very tender. (Check and stir occasionally, adding cider/beer as necessary.)
6. When done, check seasoning, stir in chopped parsley and serve over warm, buttered egg noodles accompanied by endive salad.