Saturday, March 13, 2010

Backyard Belgian Stew

I have this unfortunate characteristic that once I get an idea on the brain, I can't really deal with anything else until I've dealt with this idea. So, awhile back I got this idea that it would be cool to learn how to use those old-style dutch ovens with feet. This recipe is from a week later when I finally got my dutch oven with feet and some time in the backyard to monkey around with it.

You're gonna need one of these puppies for this recipe. A 10 inch camp dutch oven. (this could be done on the stove, then in the oven at 325, but it is such a nice day...)

Since this is a back yard job, we need charcoal. Briquettes work best for this job, but they are still pure hardwood. Why? Well, they are more uniform in terms of size and burn rate. The extra predictability helps with the dutch oven, and avoids hot spots that might come up with the more variable hardwood lumps. I may aim for full-on chaos next time around though, and go for campfire coals (but I need to wait for perfect conditions -- i.e. no neighbours home, and no cops nearby.)

You only need around 20 briquettes at a time, so a smaller chimney starter is best. Keep a couple of coals running all the time in the chimney so you can add more as the cooking progresses...
The recipie is simple. Meat, onions, and beer! Go for Belgian beer, or the closest Quebec approximation you can lay your hands on.
First we have to pre-heat the oven. Here it is outside on a spare patio stone. This is a 10 inch oven. Remember the rule of plus two and minus two. Take the inches plus two for the number of coals on top, and inches minus two for the number of coals on the bottom. Now go back in and get everything ready.
But first pour a beer. If you're gonna cook with it, might as well drink it too!
Chop onions. I used 3, but only ended up needing two (they were mega)

Now chop the beef. This is a boneless roast. I like the cut because i can turn the top right chunk into a couple of nice steaks, then make stew from the rest.
Ok, only got one steak -- wanted a beefier stew.
Need a herb bouquet for flavour -- parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf (sorry sage and rosemary). Tie them up -- this probably wouldn't work with those dry as dust bay leaves from the store, that's why I go for homegrown.
Pour the beer into a jug (3 beers here) and add two tablespoons of brown sugar -- CAREFUL, it's gonna foam, so go slow...
Mash a couple of cloves of garlic with your handy custom garlic smusher. Every kitchen needs a beach stone!
Back outside. Oven is ready. That thingy at the side is a lid lifter -- very handy.
Drop some bacon fat in the pan (which you geniusly saved from breakfast) and start browning the beef in batches. Move the coals from the lid to the bottom of the oven for extra heat during this stage. (In retrospect, the oven could have been a little hotter here -- next time I'll have a few extra coals on the bottom!)
After the beef is all browned start browning the onions. If the pot is full of charred bits, you might need to deglaze it first, but i found the onions took care of that for me by themselves.
Once the onions are done, start assembling the stew. Think of it as a lasagne where the noodles are onions. So put down a layer of beef... Then a layer of onions... And do a couple of other layers until all your goodies are in the pot.

And now pour in the beer.(God, beer is wonderful!)

Add the herbs and garlic and some salt.

And seal her up and replace all the coals with a new batch. It can run for about two hours like this depending on wind etc. But it's a good idea to have some backup coals ready to keep 'er stoked for the next two and a half hours.
...much later. All done!! (Almost)

Time to thicken the sauce a bit. Remove the beef and onions to another pan. Pour the remaining juice into a sauce pan and add 1.5 tbs of cornstarch mixed with 2 tbs of vinegar. Cook until nice and thick and bubbly.

And pour your nice sauce over your beefy onions. (Switching pans is a good idea since the cooking pot is a sooty messy disaster at this point.) Now everyone should be TOTALLY starving by now, so eat up! Hunger may be the best sauce, but this was wonderful by any measure!

Thanks to Julia for the basic recipe (how she snuck a Belgian one in there, i'll never know).


  1. It looks amazing Joe, I love it!!!

  2. That is a beautiful thing there. Well done!

    Since you're using homegrown herbs, share your dish in our Grow Your Own roundup this month! Full details at

  3. I'm going back and reading posts...and this looks amazing!! May I be so bold to request this for the next pot luck? :)

  4. Deal. I even have a bigger pot for a crowd! Man, now I'm hungry again...