A classic carbonnade is made from slowly cooked beef and onions stewed in good Belgian beer. This version doesn’t drift too far from that, though I do like to sweeten it a bit with some orange marmalade and crumbled gingerbread. Both melt into the sauce, so you don’t exactly taste them, but they add a suave and spicy undercurrent that plays nicely against the bitterness of the beer. I also marinate the beef shoulder overnight in crème fraîche to tenderize it more.
- Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings
- 5 pounds boneless beef shoulder, trimmed of all fat
- Coarse sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups crème fraîche or sour cream
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 pound slab bacon, diced
- 3 medium onions, peeled, halved, and sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed black pepper
- 4 (11.2-ounce) bottles Chimay beer or other Belgian-style beer
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons orange marmalade (optional)
- 1 cup gingerbread cut into 1/2-inch cubes or 3/4 cup gingersnap crumbs
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- The day before you want to serve this dish, season the beef shoulder with salt and ground black pepper, and put the beef in a nonreactive container, such as Pyrex. Pour the 1 cup crème fraîche over it. Roll the beef shoulder to make sure it is completely covered with crème fraîche. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275°F.
- In a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over high heat, warm the olive oil. Scrape the marinade off the beef shoulder, reserving it, and pat the beef dry. Add the beef shoulder to the pot and sear until dark golden brown on all sides, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the beef from the pot and reserve.
- Add the bacon to the pot and cook until it renders all of its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they turn a deep caramel color, about 20 minutes.
- Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, crushed black pepper, and the reserved marinade. Add the beer and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pot. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the Dijon mustard and the marmalade, if using. Return the beef to the pot, add 2 cups water and the gingerbread, and bring to a simmer.
- Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Braise until the meat is tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning the meat once or twice. If the sauce is too thin or is not flavored intensely enough, ladle most of it off into another pot and simmer it until it thickens and intensifies. Then add it back to the first pot.
- Meanwhile, just before serving, bring the red wine vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1 cup crème fraîche with the remaining 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard. Drizzle the beef with the red wine vinegar and sprinkle with the parsley leaves. Serve the crème fraîche mixture on the side.