Monday, December 2, 2013

UnRecipe: You Say Stoofvlees, I Say Meat-Fries

There are few ultimate truths in this world, but one truth can be held high, like a great, holy beacon: Food Tastes Better When It's On Fries. Seriously, I'm pretty sure it's carved in stone somewhere or in some obscure religious text. We're getting into the serious days of fall and we're enjoying our soups and stews -- how about putting some of that beef stew over a pile of crispy fries? Brilliant, I know. Meet the Stoofvlees. 

Big pile o' food, Belgian-style - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I first heard of stoofvlees when the Mister and his beer buddies went to Seattle beer bar heaven, Brouwers (don't ask me why they just have a blog; they're just so good, they don't even need a real website!). There was -- shockingly enough -- a specialty beer festival and they were serving up piles of pomme frites covered in a beef stew called stoofvlees, and the guys were totally smitten with this dish. From that point on, it wasn't Hopfest or Barleywine-fest, it was Stoofvlee-Fest. Also called carbonade flamande, stoofvlees is a Belgian dish that's typically a sweet and sour beef and onion stew; the sourness can come from a oud bruin style Abbey beer, which is on the tart side, or some cider vinegar can be used, and the sweetness comes from fruit jam. Using the stew to smother French fries seems to be a variation on the theme, but one I heartily support. There's several recipes online; I used this one from as a reference, and kind of freestyled it to our own tastes, like a proper UnRecipe. 

Mixing things up with favorite flavors for our version of stoofvlees - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Our version of stoofvlees used fennel, which I like to add to stews in the cold months. I know people like adding fennel bulb thinly sliced and raw to salads, but that's a bit too licorice-flavored for my liking. The best thing about fennel is when it gets roasted or just cooked down, the sugars develop and it gets nice and sweet, a bit like a mild onion. And the fresh fronds make for a nice garnish on a finished dish. I built our beef stew with large chunks of beef that were seasoned, lightly floured and seared before they finished braising in the stew. I used beer and a bit of vinegar for the tartness, and balanced that with some fruit jam for sweetness. A long simmer in a Dutch oven for an hour or so got all the flavors integrated and the beef fork-tender. 

Stewing over stoofvlees - Photos by Wasabi Prime
As for the frites, they weren't even regular potatoes, they were sweet potatoes. A somewhat half-hearted attempt to be healthier. Since the finished dish isn't something you're eating with your fingers, I wasn't too finicky about the fries being crispy. It's a knife-and-fork kind of meal. Think of it like a super-hearty, non-dairy version of poutine. The sweet potato fries made for a great stew-carrier. At the time, I thought doing a pan-sear and then finishing the fries in the oven would work, but it was just extra steps for no reason. The trick for crispy baked fries -- at least from what I've found with my tricksy-Hobbit-oven -- is parchment paper. I use high heat, like 400 degrees, a light coating of canola or peanut oil on the potatoes (anything that can handle a high smoke point), and laying them out evenly over parchment paper on a baking tray, versus plain tin foil. Maybe the parchment paper helps keep the baking surface dry while it bakes, I have no idea, but lately, parchment paper works, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. 

We bought a share of a cow for the winter, so we're well-stocked with bovine goodness, so I plan on making stoofvlees/meat-fries many more times as the winter months wear on. It's a way of enjoying a meat-and-potatoes kind of meal that feels like a treat. Because, really -- everything tastes better when it's on fries.

1 comment:

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