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Flemish Beef Stew (Stoverij)

5 Jul

‘Stoverij’ or Flemish beef stew is Belgium’s response to chili cheese fries. It’s hearty, stick-on-your-ribs food that feels like a warm hug on a cold winter’s day. “…but it’s Summer?!”, you say, well nothing screams Summer more than fries & stoverij from ‘t frietkot!

Belgian towns are dotted with small food stalls (think: semi-permanent ‘food truck’) that sell French fries and all the accompaniments: curry wurst (frikandel), meatballs (boullette), fried spring rolls (loempia), shrimp or chicken croquettes (garnaal of kippekroket), and of course the traditional Flemish beef stew (stoverij or stoofvlees). You know you’re in for a treat at your local “frietkot”, the minute you smell the frietjes (fries) baking in bubbling hot oil, filling the air with giddy anticipation of that first bite of fried food heaven.

Next to “frietjes”, beer is king in Belgium. Belgians learn how to cook with beer the minute they’re old enough to hold a ladle. It’s a rite of passage. After all, with over 71 different types of beer brewed and 350+ house labels to choose from, it’s the national drink of choice. When I left Ghent in late 1999, the country that is roughly the size of Rhode Island boasted 18 actively operated ‘national’ breweries and a few dozen local artisanal breweries for good measure. As I recall, pretty much every village had at least one ‘Trappist’ or ‘Catholic Benedict’ abbey where one could purchase abbey-brewed beer directly from the monks themselves. They each created their own flavor pallet, using age old brewing methods passed on for decades. The trifecta of beer-cheese-bread has long been an abbey’s bread & butter, so to speak.

Flemish beef stew is traditionally served over hot & crispy French fries, but it’s equally as delectable with a few torn hunks of grainy bread. The meat is so tender and the sauce is so sweet, you’ll come back for seconds… and thirds. Just don’t forget to enjoy a nice full-bodied beer with it, it’s practically a mortal sin if you don’t.

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FLEMISH BEER STEW or ‘Stoverij’
(adapted from a recipe by Piet Huysentruyt)

– 2 to 2.5 lbs of stew meat (I prefer chuck shoulder meat)
– 2 large onions, cut in half and sliced into not-so-thin strips
– 16oz of dark beer, more or less
– 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar, heaping (or ¼ cup of molasses)
– 1 whole clove
– 1 small clove of garlic, minced
– 2 laurel leaves
– 3-4 sprigs of rosemary
– 2-3 sprigs of thyme
– 1-2 slices of brown bread, liberally spread with 2 tbsp of mustard
– a splash of balsamic vinegar
– a few tbsp of olive oil
– 1-2 tbsp of butter
– salt & pepper to taste

1. Take a small piece of cheese cloth and tie the rosemary, thyme & cloves in. You’ll want to be able to remove it from the stew easily later on.

2. Cut the meat in roughly 1-inch size cubes. Salt & pepper like you would a steak.

3. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and brown the meat over medium heat. It’s best to do this in batches, as you don’t want to overcrowd the meat. Overcrowding means the meat won’t brown, it’ll rather steam and you don’t want this. You want a nice crispy brown edge on each piece of meat. Set each batch of meat aside. Don’t be alarmed by the brownish ‘crud’ that forms on the bottom of your pan, and definitely don’t try to get rid of it… This is where a lot of the flavor forms.

4. When all meat is browned, turn up the heat a bit and pour a splash or two of the beer in the pan. Scrape the bottom of your pan to loosen the browned bits the meat formed.

5. When most of the bits are loosened and starting to dissolve in the beer, add the butter and the sliced onions & minced garlic, and continue to cook until the onions are turning translucent.

6. Add the remainder of the beer, browned beef, cheese cloth with herbs and the sugar, and cook over low heat for 2-3 hours until the beef is fork tender. Place slices of mustard covered bread on top of the simmering stew. They’ll slowly dissolve and thicken the stew some.

7. Keep the lid off of your pot. Once you have reached the desired thickness of the sauce, only then place the lid on the pot.

8. when the stew is ready, remove the cheese cloth wrapped herbs and laurel leaves, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and stir.

Enjoy!

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Omoe Jozefa’s homemade mustard

5 Jul

Since I posted a recipe for homemade ketchup yesterday, it’s only befitting that I would post one for mustard today. After all, ketchup & mustard belong together like Siegfried & Roy. Seperate them, and – well – things are just not right.

While it’s not a Belgian invention, mustard is another one of those Belgian staples. It’s served alongside everything. If you hail from a small Flemish country town like I do, you surely remember the annual Summer ‘Breugel Feesten’ where you are traditionally presented with a plate of diced gouda & paté of pheasant or wild boar, served alongside a bowl of zesty ‘cornichons & ajuintjes’, tiny little pickled dill gerkins & onions… all to be washed down with a nice dark Leffe ‘van ‘t vat’ (Leffe beer on tap).

Mustard is ridiculously easy to make, albeit a bit time consuming as it requires some planning ahead. You’ll find many mustard recipes online, but the basic recipe below comes from my very own grandma Jozefa, bless her soul. She made sure that I understood the importance of using non-reactive utensils and unsuccesfully taught me the virtue of being patient. Mustard is really nothing more than a combination of ground (or powdered) mustard seed and some sort of liquid, blended together with any flavorings you fancy.

There’s a few tips I can pass along to you:

  • For a spicy and flavorful mustard, always use a combination of yellow, brown and/or black mustard seed. Yellow seed is fairly mild and – when used alone – typically yield a ‘flat’ or very mild mustard. For a bolder flavor, you need to add some black mustard seed.
  • To change the flavor, experiment by swapping liquids (beer, champagne, white wine…) and adding additional flavorings (tarragon leaves, honey…)
  • When adding the liquids to the ground mustard seed, the temperature of the liquid makes a difference too: hot liquids yield a more mild mustard whereas cold liquids give it more kick or bite.
  • The longer mustard ‘sits’, the milder it gets. Don’t be alarmed if your mustard tastes too spicy right after you made it, it’ll definitely ‘calm down’ in a few days to a week.

HOMEMADE MUSTARD – THE BASICS  (yields approx. 5oz of mustard)
– 2oz of mustard seed (I use even quantities of yellow, black & red or brown mustard seed)
– 3.5 fl oz of white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
– 3.5 fl oz of water
– pinch of salt, to your liking
– pinch of sugar or 1 tsp of honey, if you like your mustard a bit sweet

Place the mustard seed in an airtight glass (or non-reactive) jar with the water and vinegar. Shake well and let sit for 24-48 hours.
In a food processor (or with mortar & pestle), pulverize the soaked seeds until you get a nice creamy paste. This takes a bit of time, so be patient. For a more grainy mustard, blend less. For a creamier mustard, keep on blending until you achieve the desired creaminess. Add a bit more water one tbsp at a time if it all turns out a bit too grainy and dry. Also, homemade mustard is not quite as ‘yellow’ in color as store-bought mustard. If you fancy that yellow color, add a dash of kurkuma for color.

BEER-THYME MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above, but replace water & vinegar with 4.5oz of full-bodied red or amber ale (or stout), and 2.5oz of champagne vinegar. Once blended, add 1-2 tsp of finely chopped fresh thyme leaves.

HONEY-DILL MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When the mustard is blended to your desired creaminess, add a 1-2 tbsp of honey and a whopping tbsp of chopped dill.

LEMON-TARRAGON MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When blended, add 1-2 tsp of fresh lemon zest and 1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

ROSEMARY MUSTARD
Use basic recipe above. When blended, add 2 tbsp of very finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Homemade mustard lasts approx. 1 month in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Before using, allow it to sit for approx. 5 days so the ‘fire’ dies down a bit and the flavors have a chance to blend together.

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