Based on a traditional Belgian stew, this hearty roast is flavored with beer, thyme, bay leaves, mushrooms and lots of onions. Recipe below.
The calendar keeps trying to tell us it’s still autumn. The snow on the ground and wind chill numbers with minus signs in front of them tell another story, at least here in Chicago. So when Marion and I spotted a hefty chuck roast in the meat department, deep red and nicely marbled with fat, we grabbed it like a long lost uncle who’d suddenly won the lottery.
Chuck roast is one of our favorite cuts of meat, cheap and wonderfully flavorful. And yes, it can be on the tough side, but cook it long and slow and the toughness melts away.
I had no real plan for what to do with it, but another of this cut’s charms is its globetrotting versatility. Here at Blue Kitchen, we’ve turned it into everything from Marion’s Vietnamese Beef Stew to Moroccan Braised Beef, a Provençal Layered Pot Roast with Anchovies, Capers and Garlic and a mysterious Pot Roast flavored with Indian biryani curry paste.
Casting about for other global influences, I remembered a delicious Belgian-style pale ale we’d had at the new Chicago microbrewery and restaurant Revolution Brewing. We don’t drink a lot of beer, and I rarely cook with it. But suddenly, it sounded like a good idea.
Carbonnade a la Flamande is a traditional Belgian beef stew made with Belgian ale and onions. Lots of onions. The other two givens ingredientswise are thyme and bay leaves. Beyond that, let the variations begin. Some use sugar or brown sugar or honey or even preserves for a touch of sweetness. Some use a little vinegar to brighten the taste. A couple of recipes I saw used mustard for this purpose—I liked that idea. And at least one added mushrooms—I really liked that idea.
Even though I was studying stew recipes, I decided to turn this traditional dish into a pot roast (and not out of laziness for a change—the cold weather made a satisfyingly big slab of meat quite appealing). And I opted for oven braising for its low, even heat, instead of the stovetop cooking most of the recipes called for.
This dish isn’t exactly what you’d call refined, as Marion put it. The flavors are fairly straightforward. But on a winter night—even an unofficial winter night—it really hit the spot.
Belgian Pot Roast with Onions and Mushrooms
Serves 4 with possible leftovers
2 to 3-pound boneless beef chuck roast
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 to 4 medium yellow onions (see recipe)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
12 ounces Belgian-style pale ale (see Kitchen Notes)
2 bay leaves
1 pound sliced mushrooms (see Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 300ºF. Pat chuck roast dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a large lidded ovenproof skillet over medium-high flame. Add one tablespoon each of canola oil and butter and swirl to combine. Brown roast thoroughly on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. About halfway through browning of second side, reduce heat to medium. Transfer roast to plate.
While roast is browning, peel onions, halve lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices. You want about 6 or 7 cups of sliced onions total.
Add 2 more tablespoons of butter to pan in chunks and swirl to melt. Add onions and toss to coat with butter/oil mixture. Season with a little salt and pepper (use a light hand). Cook until slightly browned, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Stir thyme into onions and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Sprinkle flour over onions and toss to coat. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add broth to pan and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Add beer to pan, stirring to combine. Add bay leaves. Return meat and any accumulated juices to pan, nestling the roast among the onions. Cover pan and transfer to oven.
Roast meat in oven for about 1-1/4 hours. Nearing the end of this time, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Swirl last tablespoon each of canola oil and butter together in pan. Sauté mushrooms, stirring frequently, until they release their moisture and begin to brown, about 6 or 7 minutes. Remove roast from oven and turn meat in pan. Spoon mushrooms around roast, cover pan and return to oven. Roast until meat is very tender, about 1-1/4 hours more.
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the roast to a cutting board and tent with foil. If the sauce is too liquid (mine was not), simmer it on the stovetop until it’s reduced to the thickness you like. Conversely, if it’s too thick, whisk in a little water. Just before serving, whisk in the Dijon mustard. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings. Slice roast into 1/2-inch slices (it will shred some—that’s okay). Plate and top with onion mushroom sauce. Serve.
PBR and Budweiser need not apply. I don’t care what you drink, but use good beer for this. With so few ingredients, bad beer has no place to hide in this dish.
Picking mushrooms. Any mushroom will bring its nice earthy flavor note to this dish. I considered crimini mushrooms for this one, and a recipe I saw called for dried porcini mushrooms. In the end, though, I went with the humble button mushroom, which it turns out is even healthier for you than most of its fancier kin. Use whatever you have on hand or have a hankering for.
Leftover ideas. Cold, the roast is absolutely delicious sliced up and served on crusty bread. But we chopped ours up into bite-sized chunks, heated it in the leftover sauce and stirred in some cooked penne pasta. If anything, it was better the second night served this way.