Take that, wind chill factor: Belgian Pot Roast with Onions and Mushrooms

by Terry B on December 8, 2010

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.

Kitchen Notes

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.


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

altadenahiker December 8, 2010 at 2:57 am

I’m going to dream about this. AND I’ve got you in a bit on my post tomorrow, so be afraid, be very afraid. (Marion’s there too, but she doesn’t have to be quite as fearful.) Come by for brunch.

randi December 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

A long lost Uncle…hahaha!
I made something similar on Monday with an English Ale and lots of onions. While it was good, I wish I had waited and made this instead. I think this would have more flavour. I like the idea of adding the mustard. I prefer to make stews and pot roasts a day before. They are always better the next day.

randi December 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I forgot to mention this. This stew on the link below is from an Irish food blogger’s site. They use dried mushrooms soaked in liquid and then chopped fine. The soaking liquid is used as well and it gives a really nice flavour combined with the Guinness. I did find 3 Tbsp of maple syrup was too much. Just thought I’d mention it for something for you to play around with next time.
Thanks for posting this. I’ll pick a pot roast over a rib roast any day!

Terry B December 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Altadenahiker, your virtual party is a blast! (And Marion, she’s totally lying about the chicks.)

Thanks, Randi! And thanks for the link to the Irish stew—it reminded me of an Irish lamb stew I’ve made using a dark beer.

The Rowdy Chowgirl December 8, 2010 at 7:17 pm

This is a perfect cold weather dish. And your picture is beautiful–I’m impressed, as pot roast is not necessarily the most photogenic food!

Ronnie Ann December 9, 2010 at 2:58 am

Pot roast, onions AND mushrooms all slowly melting together? Oh Terry…I’m in love. This looks so good. I swear I could smell it cooking all the way here in Brooklyn. Still waiting for your take-out menu.

Faith @ She Kneads December 9, 2010 at 6:13 am

Oh WOW. I am officially craving red meat starting now.

Kate December 9, 2010 at 7:07 am

I can’t wait to try making that. It looks so delicious, and perfect for these cold winter months. Thanks for the tips.

Terry B December 9, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Thanks, Rowdy! Meat in general can be tricky to photograph. But it’s so darned delicious!

Thanks, Ronnie Ann. Actually, we do have a take-out menu, but Brooklyn is unfortunately out of our zone.

Faith—Whenever I meet people who don’t eat red meat, even a little, I’m just sad for them. We’ve cut back on how often we eat it, but it really is delicious any time we have it.

You’re welcome, Kate. Hope you like it!

Chef Dad December 10, 2010 at 12:55 am

I’ve been making pork shoulder roast lately, basically a ragu, and I increasingly think that anything cooked slowly for three hours will be good. Haven’t done beef yet, but have been eyeing the chuck roast as well. I live in Austin rather than Chicago (though Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the world) and while there are no minus signs with the temps it’s time for this dish down here too.

antwerpster December 10, 2010 at 7:20 am

This looks like an amazingly flavorful dish — perfect for these icy Belgian temperatures! I think I’ll be able to manage to find a suitable beer :)

Gali December 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The roast cuts look so amazingly tender!

Laura [What I Like] December 10, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I need a pot of this tonight…it’s freezing! Although I’m guessing not as cold as Chicago…snow already?

Terry B December 10, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Chef Dad—Pork shoulder is amazing, isn’t it? And cold is relative. A Chicago friend was in Houston in January once and saw down parkas for sale at Neiman Marcus. He asked a salesman who would possibly buy them. The incredulous salesman replied, “It’s 55 degrees outside!”

Antwerpster—Welcome to Blue Kitchen! Your blog is beautiful. And yeah, you should do just fine in the beer department.

Thanks, Gali!

Hi, Laura! Just a dusting of snow right now, but the weekend promises rain, freezing rain, snow, high winds and plummeting temperatures. Should be fun.

kirsten December 12, 2010 at 3:52 am

Love this post and all of the additional beef stew suggestions! Can’t wait to try one or more of them.

Mimi December 12, 2010 at 7:44 pm

TerryB, you are correct about the beer. My husband has been making something very similar every 3 weeks or so this fall. He’s been using an oatmeal stout. It makes the house smell wonderful. And yes, we make sandwiches with leftovers. It’s a great lunch for him. It has inspired us to plan a trip to Belgium, too!

Jamie December 12, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Since it was a cold, dreary, rainy day we decided to make this for dinner. It smelled divine while it was cooking and it was torture to be in the house with it. The sauce is unbelievable and my husband proclaimed this to be the greatest pot roast ever!! Delicious!!

Terry B December 13, 2010 at 3:18 am

Thanks, Kirsten! With the wintry weather gripping the Midwest this weekend, I’m ready to try all these stew and pot roast recipes again myself.

Hi, Mimi! On one trip to Paris, Marion and her sister made a side trip to Belgium and came back with stories of wonderful food.

I totally understand, Jamie. With many slow cooking recipes, the smells filling our apartment for hours on end are almost a masochistic pleasure. I’m so glad you and your husband liked this dish!

Joan January 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm

We had the Belgian Pot Roast this evening as well as my daughter Valerie, and her family. We both say it’s a Keeper!

The sweetness of the Spanish onions came through nicely and the mushrooms were delicious. I had just harvested fresh Thyme last week, before this last hard freeze (Illinois) and dried it. It really gave a fantastic aroma and flavor to the recipe and the gravy is soooo good. I also grow my own Bay Laurel Leaves and used about four leaves as they are milder in intensity than imported Bay Leaves, also added 3 large cloves of garlic smashed. The chuck roast weighed 3.54 lbs. and took three hours to roast total.

We bought Kasteel Triple Belgian Ale (Van Hosnsebrouck-Belgium). It should be good at $18.00 for 4 -11.3 oz. bottles. The Belgian beer is excellent and I am so please that it really enhanced the flavor but did not over-ride it; it was worth every penny and I would buy it again next time I make this recipe. This is definitely a “Company Dinner” selection to be proud of serving guests.

Terry B January 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Wow, Joan, your version sounds amazing! I’m a huge fan of garlic, but resisted adding it because every recipe I looked at didn’t include it.

Barbara January 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Made this last night to enjoy after the BLIZZARD! It did not disappoint :)
I added a little garlic too, couldn’t help myself :) Probably didn’t make any difference. The sauce was heavenly, can’t wait for leftovers tonight!

Terry B January 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Thanks, Barbara! I’m really happy a number of people have tried the recipe. Enjoy your leftovers! As I recall, this was even better the second day.

Cherszy October 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

You just made my day with this! Can’t stop drooling over this dish! Thank you!

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