Comforting casseroles part 2: beef

January 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

The snow has melted here in but the weather outside remains wintry in a dank Mancunian kind of way so casseroles are still the order of the day.  I started off thinking about pork earlier in the month:

I’ve now moved on to beef. I made a carbonnade last week and for the first time ever finished it off properly with toasted bread on top -it worked a treat and wasn’t fiddly at all as I had supposed it might be. The end result was I suppose a Belgian take on the familiar stew and dumplings, deeply savoury with the beer adding an extra dimension to the taste.

Here’s the finished dish:

This is what it looked like before the addition of the bread:

And here is the mise en place:

The origins of the word carbonnade are somewhat confusing. A couple of web sources I checked out suggested the word meant (i) something to do with grilling the meat or (ii) had a Spanish derivation. Neither of these seem immediately plausible to me.  Though on reflection, given that Spain controlled the Netherlands (in the wider sense encompassing modern day Belgium) for 150 years or so beginning in the mid sixteenth century, maybe there is something in the Spanish connection.  My own conjecture is that, like spaghetti carbonara being a hearty meal for Roman charcoal burners, this could possibly be a favourite dish of Belgian coal miners.

This particular version comes from Leith’s cookery bible.When I made this a couple of weeks ago there was still snow on the ground so I had to do my shopping on foot at our local Marks & Spencers. I bought a couple of pieces of topside  which worked a treat.  Topside is often sold as a roasting joint but invariably disappoints when served as roast beef. The beer was a dark ale from Adnams of Suffolk, Marks and Spencers own label but uncannily like an Adnams Broadside.

I give a second beef recipe too, a daube from Julia Child’s book.  I did think about quoting her Boeuf Bourgignon recipe instead which is really good but a little involved requiring separate sautéing of the the component parts.  Let’s face it, sometimes all we have time for is to throw a few things on the pot and leave the oven to work its magic over the next 3 hours.  If you don’t have much time for preparation then this daube recipe is for you.

Recipe for carbonnade of beef

This recipe which serves 4 comes from Leith’s cookery bible.  As ever, I can’t leave a recipe alone and so have tweaked one or two of the ingredients to suit what I tend to keep in the cupboard.  I’d recommend making a double quantity and stashing the other half (minus the French bread topping) in the freezer.


675g/1 1/2lb chuck steak (or topside which I used successfully) trimmed weight
1 tablespoon beef dripping (in fact I used some goose fat leftover from Christmas)
2-3 onions thinly sliced
1 clove garlic finely chopped
2 teaspoons muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons plain flour
435 ml/3/4 pint brown ale
145 ml/1/4 pint brown stock or vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
pinch chopped fresh or dried thyme
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

8 slices French bread or  Ciabatta type loaf spread thickly with Dijon mustard

Cut the beef into small steaks, cutting across the grain of the meat. Heat half of the dripping or oil in a large frying pan and fry the steaks a few at a time until browned.  Put them into an ovenproof lidded casserole (Le Creuset type ideal) as they are done. If the bottom of the pan becomes very dark or too dry, put in a little water, deglaze and pour over the meat.  Heat up  a little more dripping or oil and continue to brown the meat.  Once the meat is done, deglaze the pan, add the remaining dripping or oil and fry the onions slowly (you may need a little extra dripping at this stage depending on how much you used to brown the meat). When the onions begin to brown, add the garlic and sugar and continue to cook for a further minute or two until nicely brown.

Stir in the flour and cook for a further minute stirring as you do so.  Remove the heat and pour in the brown ale and stock.

Return to the heat and bring slowly to the boil, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.  Pour into the casserole and add the vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Cover and bring to simmering point then cook in a preheated oven (150 degrees C/300 degrees F/gas mark 2) for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender.  Remove the casserole from the oven and increase the heat to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6.  Place the slices of bread, mustard-side up, on tope of the stew.  They will absorb the flavoursome fat on the top.  Return the casserole, lid off, to the oven until the bread is toasted and golden-brown (5-10 minutes).

Recipe for daube de boeuf à la Provençale

From  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  This recipe serves 6 but I find the quantities tend to be on the generous side – this would imply 8oz meat per person whereas the carbonnade recipe above allows 6oz per person which is about right for me.  Another good recipe for doubling up and freezing.

Recommended cuts of beef for the daube are rump, chuck, thick flank, topside or silverside.


3lb lean stewing steak cut into 2 1/2 inch squares, 1 inch thick
1/2 pint red wine
1/8 pint brandy
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 lb thinly sliced onions
1/2 lb thinly sliced carrots
1/2 lb bacon lardons
6 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
1 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes peeled seeded juiced and chopped or 2 400g/14oz tins tomatoes, chopped or 1 pint passata
approximately 4oz sifted  plain flour on a plate for coating the beef
1/2 to 3/4 pint beef stock (or water or additional red wine)

For the Provençal seasoning

10 flat anchovy fillets packed in olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil either from the anchovy tin and/or plain
2 cloves mashed garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Place the beef in a bowl and mix with the wine, brandy, olive oil, seasonings. herbs and vegetables.  Cover and marinate for at least 3 hours, stirring every so often. Remove the beef from marinade and drain through a sieve.  Reserve both the vegetables and the marinade liquid.

Line the bottom of a large ovenproof lidded casserole (again, Le Creuset type is perfect) with one third f lardons. Strew one third of the marinade vegetables and mushrooms over them then add a third of the tomatoes. Piece by piece, roll the beef in the flour and shake off the excess. Place closely together in a layer over the vegetables.  Continue with another layer of bacon and vegetables, then a second layer of beef.  Conclude with a final layer of bacon and vegetables.

Pour in the marinade liquid and enough stock (or water or wine) to almost cover the contents of the casserole.  Bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover tightly and place in the lower part of an oven preheated to 150 degrees C/325 degrees F/gas mark 2.  Regulate the heat so that the liquid simmers slowly for 3 to 4 hours.  The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the daube is cooking, prepare the Provençal seasoning. Using a fork, mash the anchovies and capers to a paste in a bowl. Beat in the other ingredients. After the daube has cooked for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, remove it from the oven and skim off the fat.  Pour on the Provençal seasoning mixture and baste the beef with the cooking juices from the casserole. Cover and return to the oven for a final half hour of cooking.

Serve with noodles or plain boiled potatoes , a green salad or vegetable and of course a glass of your favourite wine.

Do you have a great beef casserole recipe or a fresh insight into why a carbonnade is so named?  If so, please leave a comment.

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§ 2 Responses to Comforting casseroles part 2: beef

  • Carol Fieldhouse says:

    Carbonnade – the origins of the name – mmmm that set me thinking! Thank you for the pork casserole recipe by the way – we loved it!
    Carbonnade clearly comes from “charbon”, or coal and a bit of checking in Elizabeth David and Anne Willan has produced the information that a carbonnade would be cooked in the local bakery oven, after the bread was taken out (Elizabeth David – Carbonnade Nimoise – a lamb dish!) or a dish of grilled meat flavoured with mustard from the North (Anne Willan – French Regional Cooking) which eventually became a dish cooked in the oven rather than over the coals…. Hmmmm not much that is definitive there… Anne’s recipe also has the croutes on top and is covered with splodges – an excellent recipe!

    So to Larousse…. just two recipes for carbonnade, one with beer, the other, identical with a named Belgian beer… All recipes refer to the method for cooking slices or chunks of meat, beef or lamb, in a closed casserole in a liquid, usually beer.

    A Daube is virtually the same – but using wine! The point of real interest to me – and the reason I am going on at such length – is that Elizabeth David and Larousse refer to a daubiére as a pot, either metal or earthenware with a lid – “an inset lid, upon which glowing embers were placed so that the food cooked with heat fom on top as well as from underneath” -Larousse has an excellent picture of one, which also appears to be on legs. David then goes on to explain how these pots are nowadays beng replaced with by the enamelled cast-iron pots “made by the famous firms of Le Creuset and André of Cousances”…….

    I am certain that at some time in history I have read a reference to carbonnades as being placed among the embers of a fire or baking oven with coals then being placed on top of the pot to ensure all-round heat – but I can’t find it today! However, a carbonnade is clearly a northern daube – so most suitable to January in Manchester!

    • Jennifer Raffle says:

      Carol, just realised I hadn’t acknowledged your comprehensive and erudite comment – what a great piece of research from a linguist, thank you.

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