Sunday, May 4, 2014

Week 14 - Belgian

Figuring out what to make for Week 14, Belgian week, was difficult. We visited Belgium a few years ago (still haven't gotten around to finishing those recaps...) and indulged in what are probably Belgium's most well-known food specialties - waffles, chocolate, fries, and mussels. We also got some traditional Flemish cuisine in the form of waterzooi and carbonnade. With so many options, many of which I was pretty sure I could not do justice to in the kitchen, what should I choose?

After much research, I stumbled upon this Bon Appetit recipe for beer and onion braised chicken carbonnade. That was perfect! We had almost all the ingredients at home already and it sounded like it would capture those great Belgian flavors that I wanted to make. Instead of just making some garlic mashed potatoes to accompany the carbonnade, I decided to make some stoemp, which is basically mashed potatoes with lots of vegetables in the mix.


Carbonnade is a traditional Flemish stew, usually made with beef, onions and beer. I don't really cook beef at home (by choice), so a chicken carbonnade, while not traditional, was a perfect adaptation for us. I made some further changes to the recipe based on a lot of the reviewer comments, which I think really improved the original recipe.

Our carbonnade adaptation used the following ingredients:

- 2 tbsp unsalted butter ($0.50)
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs ($4.79)
- 1 tbsp 5 spice powder ($0.15)
- salt and pepper to season chicken ($0.10)
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced ($0.60)
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced ($0.10)
- 3 large carrots, diagonally sliced ($0.45)
- 3 tsp brown sugar, divided ($0.15)
- 4 small bay leaves ($0.20)
- 3 tsp dijon mustard ($0.20)
- 1 cup dark beer ($1)
- 1/2 cup chicken broth ($0.20)
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar ($0.15)

Making the carbonnade was fairly easy, but it takes some time to get the thick braised stew that carbonnade needs to be. First, you melt butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper and 5 spice powder, add to the skillet and brown it.

Once the chicken is browned, set it aside.

In the same skillet, add the onions, carrots, garlic and 2 tsp of the brown sugar, along with salt and pepper. Cover and saute until "deep golden brown," stirring occasionally. It should take about 10 minutes.

Every so often, I added some water to deglaze the skillet and help move the vegetables along.

Add bay leaves, mustard and the rest of the brown sugar. Then add the chicken back to the skillet, followed by beer, broth and vinegar. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Simmer covered for 10 minutes.

Uncover the skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked and sauce is thick. This could take 20 minutes. Season to taste (although I don't think I made many adjustments other than a little salt and pepper).

The stew was thick and delicious. We used an oatmeal stout from Trader Joe's house brand for our dark beer (A's recommendation), and I think it was a great choice. The thick sauce reminded us so much of what we had in Brugge and the flavor of this recipe (with the adjustment for balsamic vinegar, especially) tasted spot on. We're not carbonnade experts but it was really reminiscent of what we had there. A even thought it was better than the one he had in Brussels!

This dish is perfect for winter. It's thick and hearty, but also relatively healthy. As far as improvements, other reviewers suggested mushrooms but I forgot to buy them. I think they would be a great addition. This is definitely going into the winter repertoire.


Stoemp is my kind of mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes as a general matter, but I especially love mashed potatoes with vegetables mixed in (as seen by my bubble and squeak attempts, for one thing). Carbonnade is usually served with potatoes (often fries or boiled potatoes) and stoemp was a great pairing.

For the stoemp variation we made, we used:

Ignore the butter... I decided to use olive oil instead

- 3 large carrots ($0.45)
- 3 green onions ($0.30)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.60)
- 6 cloves of garlic ($0.10)
- 2 tbsp olive oil ($0.38)
- 2 russet potatoes ($0.98)
- handful of chives ($0.56)
- salt and pepper to season ($0.10)

The steps to make stoemp are pretty easy so we didn't really use a recipe. Prep vegetables, saute vegetables in olive oil (or butter, if you choose), add some water to let the vegetables simmer and soften. Boil the potatoes, mash them, add in the vegetables. I also added some chives, salt and pepper.

The stoemp came out really well. It was good with the carbonnade because it didn't have an especially strong flavor of its own, letting the carbonnade shine. That isn't to say that it wasn't flavorful. It was. But it tasted even better soaking up the sauce from the chicken carbonnade.


We really enjoyed our Belgian dinner that night. It brought back a lot of memories of sitting in restaurants in Brugge and being on vacation. At $12.06 ($8.59 for the chicken and $3.47 for the potatoes), it was fairly affordable (although I don't remember that it made any leftovers since it was so good). We were really happy with how both dishes turned out and would definitely make them again.

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