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Carbonnade de Boeuf

by Debora Robertson from Notes From A Small Kitchen Island

This hearty French beef stew is comfort food defined and perfect for chilly evenings. Serve with potatoes cooked to your liking.

From the book


This is one of my favourite dishes in life: dark, rich, seductive, comforting, like an excellent and reliable husband. If it’s cold outside, or you’re feeling low, or you want to spoil your friends, or drag your family away from screens to the table, I can think of few finer dishes. It may feel like an awful lot of onions, but they’re essential to the sauce’s depth of flavour, adding a discernible edge of sweetness. If you can, buy your lardons in a large slab and cut them yourself, as the pre-cut ones are often a bit stingy. Serve the carbonnade with mashed potato, chips, baked potatoes, whatever your favourite potato might be, and buttered greens of some kind. It’s even better cooked the day before if you have time.

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1.8kg beef shoulder or chuck steak, cut into 3cm cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp sunflower oil
40g unsalted butter, plus a little more for frying the pain d’épice
300g smoked lardons, cut into 1.5–2cm cubes
Ideally 4 (about 800g) onions, halved and cut into thin slices
1 bay leaf
3 (about 400g) carrots, cut on the slant into 5cm pieces
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
1.25 l beer, ideally a Belgian beer such as Chimay Gold or Red, or Leffe Blonde
4 tbsp cider vinegar
1 bouquet garni, comprising 1 bay leaf, a few fresh parsley stalks and 2 sprigs of fresh thyme tied together with kitchen string
2 whole cloves, or ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 tbsp Dijon mustard (optional)
About 5–6 thick slices of pain d’épice or not-too-fiery gingerbread, depending on the size of your pan, plus one extra slice
A generous handful of (about 15g) fresh parsley leaves and fine stalks, roughly chopped


Season the meat with salt and pepper, then warm the oil and half the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or casserole (you need one with a lid) over a medium–high heat and sauté the beef, browning it all over. You’ll need to do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan – if you overcrowd the pan it’s hard to get them beautifully brown. As pieces of the beef are cooked, remove them to a large plate. Once you’ve cooked the beef, repeat the process with the lardons, putting them on the plate too when they’re lightly browned and have rendered some of their fat.

Lower the heat, add the remaining butter and cook the onions. Add them to the pan with a good pinch of salt and a bay leaf and sauté them gently, stirring from time to time, until they’re beautifully soft (they will be darkened because they will take on the delicious residue from cooking the meat, but you don’t want to cook them so hard or so fast that they take on colour of their own. Be gentle with them and they will reward you). This will take about 40 minutes to do properly, which is of course what you want. Add the carrots and sauté for a further 5 minutes.

Next, sprinkle on the sugar and stir to dissolve and lightly caramelize, then return the meat and any juices that have accumulated on the plate to the pan. Pour in the beer and vinegar. Add the bouquet garni and cloves and season gently. Bring to a simmer. Spread the mustard on one side of the slices of pain d’épice – use just enough slices to cover the surface of the casserole, mustard side down.

Lower the heat to the barest simmer and put the lid on. Simmer very, very gently over a low heat for 2 hours. If you prefer, you can put it into the oven at this point – 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3.

It’s done when the meat is meltingly tender. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if necessary. If the sauce is thin, remove the lid and simmer until thickened. Stir in the parsley.

Cut the remaining pain d’épice into rough cubes and sauté them in butter until golden. Serve scattered over the carbonnade, with some form of potatoes on the side and some cheerfully healthy greens, because, well, you know.


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From the book: Notes From A Small Kitchen Island

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