The first in the series “Foreign Flavours”, in which I’ll be preparing one dish from every UN member state, could be no other than my home country, Belgium. A not so foreign flavour to start us off. 😉
When it comes to Belgium, most people know about waffles and chocolate, but stoofvlees (or carbonade flamande if you prefer the French name; Flemish beef stew for the anglo crowd) is less familiar, although it could be considered our national dish. Hence stoofvlees met frieten was an obvious choice.
Fair warning: the frieten (i.e. fries; we loathe the term “French” fries – they’re not French, they’re Belgian) are true fries, made from scratch. This is the real stuff, people.
This is a dish that involves a bit of elbow grease and should be prepared over a two-day time span. It’s worth it, though! Pinky promise!
Below you’ll find two recipes, one for stoofvlees and one for Belgian fries. As stoofvlees is best left alone overnight, let’s start with this one.
STOOFVLEES RECIPE (serves 4 with a side of fries)
- 1kg of stewing beef, cut into large chunks (best to let it reach room temperature)
- 2 large onions
- 1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and a few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley)
- 2 cloves
- 2 slices of brown bread
- 2 heaped tbsp of sharp mustard (I used Bister)
- 2 heaped (and I do mean heaped) tbsp of Loonse stroop (see photographs below) — This is a redcurrant syrup from Borgloon, a city in the province of Limburg (not too far from where Mrs Pomegranate and I live), and is key to the flavour of my stoofvlees. It’s a lot thicker than your average fruit syrup. If you can’t get your hands on Loonse stroop (UK readers, you’re in luck: *yoink*), you could always try Luikse stroop/sirop de Liège (a similar syrup from Liège, which I’ve been told is more readily available online). Alternatively, you could just add any redcurrant or apple/pear syrup you can find. The thicker, the better, but don’t worry: using a runnier syrup will not compromise the final texture of the dish.
- about 1l of dark beer (preferably dark Belgian abbey beer – I used Maredsous)
- 1 tbsp of vinegar
- a few knobs of butter and some vegetable oil
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Peel and roughly dice the onions.
- Melt a knob of butter and about 1 tbsp of oil in a large (preferably cast-iron) casserole over medium heat. Sauté the onions until soft and juuuuust starting to brown. In my cast-iron casserole this takes +/- 4 minutes. Remove from the casserole and put in a large container.
- Add 1 to 2 more tbsp of oil to the casserole. Season the beef and add the meat to the casserole. Brown the beef cubes over medium heat. It’s best to do this in batches, so the meat browns well and you don’t end up boiling it… yet. 😉 About 7 to 8 pieces of meat per batch should do the trick. Once browned, add each batch to the onions.
- Add the Loonse stroop and beer to the casserole and turn up the heat. Bring to a boil and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the casserole. Maximum flavour!
- Once the stewing liquid comes to a boil, add the onion and beef cubes back to the casserole, along with the cloves and bouquet garni. Give the stew-to-be a good stir and bring to a simmer.
- Next, spread 1 tbsp of mustard on each slice of bread and place both slices (mustard side down) on top of the stew:
They’ll disintegrate completely, adding flavour to the stew and thickening the sauce.
- Let the stew simmer (uncovered!) for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally (every 30 minutes). Then pop a lid on and simmer for another 15 minutes. This adds a touch more moisture back to the casserole, which the dish will need. Remove from the heat.
- Remove the bouquet garni (and cloves, if you can find them). Add the tablespoon of vinegar, and give your stoofvlees a good stir.
- Now comes the most difficult part. Leave it alone for at least 12 hours (with the lid on). The flavours will build up even more. The next day your stoofvlees will look like this:
- All that’s left is to bring your stoofvlees back to a simmer once your final batch of fries is on its way!
FRIETEN (BELGIAN FRIES) RECIPE (serves 5 to 6)
- 1.75kg waxy potatoes
- 1.5l corn oil (or a flavourless vegetable oil of your choice – groundnut oil works well too)
- mayonnaise (to serve)
- Peel and rinse the potatoes. Then, it’s off to the chopping board! Start by cutting your potatoes lengthwise (make sure your discs are not too thick), then slice the discs into fries of roughly the same thickness. Don’t worry if you end up with a few oddballs. Belgian fries are very forgiving. ^^
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill another pot with ice water.
- Once the water comes to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt. Add one big slotted spoon worth of raw fries to the boiling water and blanch them for 5 minutes. Remove with the slotted spoon and dunk into the ice water bath before putting them on a clean dish cloth/kitchen towel. Pat them dry. You want to get rid of any moisture before you start frying. Repeat until your entire batch of raw fries has been blanched.[I should add that not everyone blanches their fries. As potatoes have a high sugar content, they tend to turn dark brown when frying. By blanching them the sugar content is reduced and they’ll get a nice golden colour.]
I tend to go the extra mile and arrange individual fries to air-dry for a few minutes after patting them dry, just to make sure they’re nice and dry before I start pre-frying them. We take our fries seriously in Belgium. Can you tell? 😉
- Frying happens in two stages. You can use a deep-frier for this (not recommended, imo) or a wok. I used a wok.Pre-frying: heat 1l of the oil until it reaches 150°C and start frying in small batches (one heaped slotted spoon at a time) for 6 minutes each. If using a wok, make sure you check the oil’s temperature after each batch. After pre-frying, put the fries in a bowl with some kitchen roll to draw out the excess oil. Your fries will start to look yellow at this stage but not golden yet:
[Pre-frying is vital and cannot be skipped under any circumstances, unless you want crispy shells and underdone insides. I should also mention that once the pre-frying stage is complete, you can either:
– move on to the second frying stage and dig in!
– put the pre-fried fries in the fridge until later on (if using the same day)
– freeze them (once they’ve cooled down, obviously), saving golden goodness for another day. They keep in the freezer for about 6 months.]
- As soon as your fries have been pre-fried, it’s time to turn up the heat. Add the remaining 0.5l of oil to the hot oil in the wok and heat it up until it reaches at least 180°C. It’s best to keep the flame a bit higher throughout the second fry compared to the pre-frying stage. Keep an eye on that temperature, and remember: the more room your fries have, the crispier they’ll be in the end!
- Fry in batches (6 minutes per batch) until nice and golden. When you take them out of the oil, you’ll notice straight away whether they’re crispy or not. Transfer to a bowl with some kitchen roll and add a pinch of salt.This was what my first batch looked like:
- Serve with a dollop of mayonnaise.
Don’t forget to warm up your stoofvlees and you, my friend, are about to enjoy Belgian cooking at its best!
Let me know what you think! Or better yet, try stoofvlees met frieten yourself! And never say “French fries” again!