Beef Carbonnade: Big Bertha meets David Crockpott

I have two books on crockpot/slow-cookers.  This one I didn't like so much:

This one I liked very much and has a bunch of dog-eared pages to prove it:

With Hurricane Irene bringing out the need for comfort food - either for oneself or to bring to someone without power - I became smitten with the recipe for Beef Carbonnade.  According to Andrew Schloss,

Brittany is the England of France:  pubs replace bistros, beer trumps wine, and carbonnade is their boeuf bourguignonne.  Carbonnade takes advantage of the high moisture and sugar content of onions, simmering them until they collapse into a sweet pungent syrup.  Add a bottle of beer, the richness of well-exercised beef, some brown sugar, a few herbs, and several hours in the slow cooker, and you've got the heartiness of a British stew tweaked with a bit of je ne sais quoi.

For some miraculous reason, I had a bottle of lager in the fridge.  For a slightly less miraculous reason, I had power in the aftermath of Irene because last year when we were doing renovations, we yanked out a lot of bells and whistles and niceties from our master bathroom plans and put that money into wiring the electrical panel into an exterior generator, since christened Big Bertha.  Now, when the power goes out, there is a moment of darkness, an audible, satisfying ker-chunk, the generator kicks in and the lights come back.  I wasn't thrilled at time of install.  Now I go out and kiss Big Bertha many many times during heavy snowfall or hurricanes.

You'll notice this recipe does not include carrots and I simply cannot fathom a stew without them, it's impossible.  And how can you put in carrots and leave celery behind to pine in the crisper drawer?  If you're with me, add in 6-8 carrots, peeled and sliced, and 3-4 ribs of celery, sliced.  And what the hell, if you're gonna use carrots and celery, you might as well throw in frozen peas at the end, right?


Irene's Beef Carbonnade

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 lbs beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1/4 inch slices; OR 3 lbs beef short ribs (I used the short ribs)
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 large onions, halved and cut into thin slices (I used a mix of red and white)
  • 2 slices salt pork or bacon, finely diced (I had neither, I skipped the step that involves them and don't feel the stew suffered)
  • 1 tbsp fines herbes or heaping 1/2 tsp each of thyme, oregano, basil, sage, and rosemary
  • 2 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 bottle (12 oz) ale or lager beer
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley

1.  Mix the flour, salt, and pepper on a plate.  Turn the beef in the seasoned flour until coated; pat off any excess and reserve the remaining seasoned flour.  Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and brown the beef in batches, 3 to 4 minutes per side.  Set aside on a plate

2.  Reduce heat to medium-low, add the onions, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a 5- to 6-qt slower cooker and lay the beef on top.  Add carrots and celery if using.

3.  Add the salt pork or bacon to the skillet and cook over medium heat until cooked through but not crisp.  Add the herbs and reserved seasoned flour and cook until the flour browns, about 3 minutes.  Add the brown sugar and beer and simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened.  Pour the sauce over the beef in the cooker.  Bury the bay leaves in the sauce, cover, and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours, or on low for 8 to 10 hours.  Skim off fat (there will be mucho if you use short ribs) and remove the bay leaves (I always forget this).  Add the frozen peas if using, stir until heated through.  Stir in the parsley.

Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.  Light the candles, hunker down and weather the storm.