Wednesday 10 March 2010

FABPOW! Carbonnade and Chimay Blue

Ireland has beef and Guinness, England has steak and ale, Belgium has carbonnade. It’s that classic recipe which uses beer as the vital ingredient along with hunks of beef and lots of onions. I don’t know if there is a definitive beer to make carbonnade but a dubbel seems to be a popular choice, although I’ve seen everything from a bottle of geueze, to Orval, to a Flemish Red, to Westlveteren 12 and beyond into beers of all styles from all over the world. To be honest you can use any beer you want and each will add its own flavour, though it probably should be Belgian to qualify as Carbonnade (use a British ale and you’ve made a stew...). I decided to use Chimay Blue because it’s a great beer, it’s ideal for this recipe and I can buy it from Waitrose down the road.

The joy of carbonnade is the simplicity. Brown some beef, take it out, soften lots of onions, a little garlic and thyme, a couple of bay leaves, a teaspoon vinegar and of sugar, a little stock and then the beer and cook for a couple of hours on a low temperature until it’s thick and rich and delicious. Pile this high next to a mound of chips and a glass of beer. You can add mustard-covered slices of bread on top too. It’s great and hearty food, it’s warming, it’s tender, it’s intensely savoury with an underlying sweetness and it comes with chips: it’s proper man grub.

The Chimay adds a depth of flavour to it that can only be given by the beer and when you drink the beer alongside it you can pull out the caramel base, the dried fruit and the distant spice. Together they work perfectly; the beer is both dark enough to handle the carbonnade and light enough to not make it cloying, the carbonation is refreshing but it’s the bridge of flavours between the glass and plate that pulls it all together and makes it extra special.

Carbonnade is a great beer dish. It's so easy to make and whatever beer you open to put in will change the final flavour. My next attempt will use a geueze or Orval, I think, if I can bare to open one and not drink it straight down. Anyone used these or other beers to cook carbonnade? What has given the best results? 


  1. That looks fab and it’s only 10am; have used Jenlain Amber, as well as a Tournai Noire, not at the same time obviously. They worked a treat, I wonder about using the gueuze though, I always thought they made better salad dressings.

  2. You need to get out more if you think Chimay Blue is a great beer.

  3. ATJ, I wonder about gueuze too, which is why I want to try it. I've heard it works well, but we'll see. I'd also like to try it in a batter for fish, but rarely deep fry so don't get to try it.

    Ron, what's wrong with Chimay?! It's relatively inexpensive and it's easy to get hold of, making it perfect for this dish. And a perfect partner too. I'll happily drink that over almost every other bottle in the supermarkets around here. Remember, this isn't just read by beer geeks (it mostly is, just not entirely!)...

  4. You are forgetting Mark, that once a beer appears in Tesco, it is "common". It is only any good if you have to buy it off the internet or find an obscure pokey shop for odd balls.

    Recipe's containing ingredients that everyone can easily get hold of? Where's the challenge? Pick an ingredient no one can get hold of. That's a recipe.

  5. Westmalle Dubbel, Leffe Brune, all work well. I don't think you'd notice the difference when it's in a stew. I would tend to use the cheapest (probably Leffe) and use more of it. Or just go in with your can of Guinness draught and call it an Irish stew. Don't use your bottle of Westvleteren 12 which you've been coddling for the last decade !

  6. Err, thanks for sharing that with us Brett...

    Meanwhile back at the ranch, I think Liefmans Goudenband is the best beer I have used for a carbonnade. Rabbit in gueuze is a classic Flemish dish (last tried at the Rare Vos in Schepdal, where is was fab).


  7. Chimay Blue is also pritty good with a cheese board, and not bad with christmas dinner.