From America's Test Kitchen Season 7: Best Beef Stew
Most recipes for this Belgian beef, onion, and beer stew go in one of two directions: In one version, the recipe masks its genuine flavors and, in others, the recipes rigidly adhere to the “three ingredients only” rule, so the stew is stripped down to a pale, tasteless version of itself. We wanted hearty chunks of beef and sliced sweet onion in a lightly thickened broth, laced with the malty flavor of beer.
Most recipes suggest using chuck-eye roast for the beef, but we tried several other cuts and found that top blade steak, which has a fair amount of marbling, provided the best texture and a “buttery” flavor that worked well alongside the onions and beer. White and red onions were too sweet in our stew; yellow onions worked better. The onions should be browned only lightly; overcaramelization caused them to disintegrate. An untraditional ingredient—tomato paste—gave the stew depth, as did garlic. Fresh thyme and bay leaves provided seasoning, and a splash of cider vinegar added the right level of acidity. Beer is a staple of Belgian cooking, and we found that it’s less forgiving than wine when used in a stew. The light lagers we tried resulted in pale, watery stews; better were dark ales and stouts. But beer alone often made for bitter-tasting stew, so we included some broth; a combination of chicken and beef broth gave us more solid and complex flavor.
Top blade steaks (also called blade or flatiron steaks) are our first choice, but any boneless roast from the chuck will work. If you end up using a chuck roast, look for the chuck eye roast, an especially flavorful cut that can easily be trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces. Buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes make excellent accompaniments to carbonnade. The traditional copper-colored Belgian ale works best in this stew. If you can't find one, choose another dark or amber-colored ale of your liking.