‘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.
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.