Carbonnade a la Flamande, or Beer: the New Hangover Cure

Beef Carbonnade with buttered noodles
Amy and I spent the week between Christmas and New Year in the French departments of Picardie and Nord-Pas-de-Calais which are, historically, along with large swathes of Belgium and Zeeland in Holland, part of the larger area of Northern Europe known as Flanders. These mostly flat and seemingly bucolic rural regions of north-eastern France were the site of the fiercest trench warfare in World War I and are today known more for their giant military cemeteries and grim rows of crosses stretching to the horizon than for the food they produce. Driving the Somme Valley in French Flanders is a sobering experience even in the heat and brightness of high summer, but in the freezing, drifting fog of deepest winter, when the white headstones seem to lurch out at you and then disappear into the mists like the many ghosts they recall, it sends a mighty chill through both body and soul. A chill that the regional cuisine seems to be have been invented to dispel.

Following a restorative beer in the charmingly medieval town of Arras, our nerves were steadied enough to drive north through the falling snow to Lille where we were to spend New Year’s Eve. Foolishly we hadn’t made any plans for that evening and consequently ended up at the only place in town that had a spare table – a bizarre, Moroccan-themed restaurant enticing diners in for  “One Night in Marrakech”. If that fabled North African city is nothing but a den of drunken, middle-aged Frenchmen staggering around trying to belly dance and exposing large acreages of flesh for henna tattoos then our night was indeed an authentic experience, though I would hope there is more to it than that.
Beef Carbonnade with buttered noodles
However, since we couldn’t beat them, so we joined them (in all things  minus the henna), so come New Year’s morning we looked like we’d just been dragged to Marrakech and back on our faces. Venturing gingerly out onto the deserted Lille streets, we, once again, found a table hard to come by, but eventually managed it at a warm and friendly gastropub full of similarly rumpled young people. Seeing that everyone else was working through their hangovers with frothy Belgian ales and steaming bowls of black stew (and not being in much of a state to make decisions) we ordered glasses of Leffe Blonde and servings of boeuf carbonnade a la flamande or Flemish beef and beer stew.

Meats braised in ales of all kinds can be found throughout northern Europe, but nowhere else, perhaps, has the concept been raised to such a culinary pinnacle as in Flanders. There, some would argue, one finds not only many of the world’s best beers, but also cuisine that both makes extensive use of beer and is prepared to be enjoyed with beer. Carbonnade is, more or less, the national dish of Flanders and is known in Dutch-speaking areas as Vlaamse Stoverij or Vlaamse stoofkarbonade. It is noted for its slightly sour flavor that is derived from the dubbel (double) or trippel (triple) Abbey-style ales used in its preparation, as well as a jigger of cider vinegar added just before serving. The most unique aspects of a traditional Carbonnade though, and what makes it so different from all other beef and beer stews, are the slow sauted onions and the, seemingly-curious, addition of mustard-coated ginger-snap cookies that are used both as a flavoring and a thickening agent. These cookies really place the dish in its culinary context with the spice-trading and koekie-mad Dutch making key contributions.

Beef Carbonnade with buttered noodles

Whether because it contained hair of the dog or was accompanied by it,  the carbonnade acted like some sort of miracle restorative on our poisoned systems and sent us back out into Lille’s cold streets for an entire day of exploring, which was just as well since there was absolutely nothing else open in the entire city that day.  Saying hearty braised dishes are perfect for wintry weather is, frankly, about as insipid a remark as most braised meat dishes, even those fortified with beer, so I shall avoid that particular cliche here, and say instead that it is perfect for curing a hangover. That’s right, you heard it here first: beer both creates and cures hangovers.
Beef Carbonnade with buttered noodles
Beef Carbonnade with buttered noodles

Flanders-Style Carbonnade of Beef (serves 4)

  • 2lbs lean stewing beef (chuck steak)
  • 2 large onions, sliced thinly
  • 4 large cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4lb smoked bacon, cut into cubes (lardons)
  • 1 package (about 6oz) ginger-snap cookie
  • 4 tablespoons smooth Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 good sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 – 1.5 litres (3 pints) – or more for drinking – best Belgian abbey-style ale (preferably a brown/brune or trippel), like Chimay or Kwack
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and black pepper


  1. Heat a large dutch oven or other pot with tight-fitting lid, to medium and add butter.
  2. Gently saute bacon until golden and crispy. Remove to a plate.
  3. Season beef well with salt and pepper and brown in batches in bacon grease.
  4. Remove browned beef to a plate and reduce heat to medium-low.
  5. Sweat onions gently for 12-15 minutes or until nicely caramelized.
  6. Add garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Increase heat to medium-high and when sizzling, pour in half cup of beer and, with a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pot.
  8. Add bacon and beef back into the pot along with bay and thyme.
  9. Pour in enough beer to almost completely cover everything and bring to a boil.
  10. While stew is coming to the boil, take a knife and spread mustard over one side of all your ginger cookies.
  11. When stew boils, reduce heat to low and carefully place mustarded ginger-snaps all over top of stew.
  12. Cover pot and simmer stew gently for at least 2 hours, but as long as 3.
  13. After 2 or 3 hours, taste stew for seasoning. It should taste like it needs a touch of salt.
  14. Kill heat and stir in vinegar. Taste again. Correct seasoning if you think it needs it, otherwise serve immediately with buttered noodles, Belgian fries (traditional), mashed or boiled potatoes, or just with a crusty baguette.
  15. Enjoy with some excellent Belgian beer

39 thoughts on “Carbonnade a la Flamande, or Beer: the New Hangover Cure

  1. I like to brush the hair of the dog every time I hear the barking. This is exactly the kind of hangover food I adore – comforting, nourishing, restorative, and flavorful enough that your punished taste buds can welcome it in without being over powering. Well done, my friends. The last time I had a Flemish stew enriched with gingerbread it was a super rich oxtail, and these pictures are bringing all those welcome taste memories back. Well done~!!

  2. Hearty braised dishes are perfect for wintry weather!

    Seriously that looks deep in flavor. So the gingersnaps just get absorbed into the sauce, right? That is so weird (to me) that I just have to try it. Bookmarked!

  3. I’ve heard this rumor that drinking more cures hangovers, the real problem being that the morning after, alcohol is generally the last thing I want near me. This dish though? I’m pretty sure I want this dish any time, anywhere, as soon as possible.

  4. Gorgeous pictures queridos!!! What a story :D. I wish I could have seen you there… quite an experience he, he.

    This is a lovely recipe, fantastic for this horrible Winter weather we are still “enjoying” here in Europe!!! Please hand me a plate.

  5. One year I spent NY eve in Morocco (albeit in Tangeirs and not Marrakesh). They put on a big show for the American tourists, the locals could not have cared less. They were thinking more of Eid and the sheep they had slaughtered.

    I have heard of gingersnaps in beef stew but never tried it. I have ginger snaps in the freezer, so no excuse. BTW – I made the mulligatawany soup and that was wonderful!

  6. I’m absolutely intrigued by the mustard-covered ginger snaps. A combination that bizarre just has to work! I’ll be trying this when winter comes to Argentina.

  7. My boyfriend made this for me last winter but the recipe he used (from Cook’s Illustrated) did not include gingersnaps let alone mustard coated ones, what an interesting twist! I have heard of using gingersnaps in sauerbraten but never in this dish, I’ll have to give that a try next time. I’m wondering how pronounced their flavor is in the final dish?

  8. Great post; I’ve been to the North Sea in winter and you reminded me of that trip. Loved hearing about the drinking and eating experiences too! The beef stew looks and sounds like a perfect if restorative winter meal.

  9. Fascinating and delicious looking recipe. The gingersnaps are quite an unsual twist. Even though the snow is melting, the constant bleak weather around here could use some nice hearty braised dishes too.

    I would love a photo of that New Year’s Eve dinner. Drunk bellydancing frenchmen? That is too much of an enticement not to arouse my morbid curiosity! 😉

  10. I had a long and rather bizarre french exchange in french flanders – Bethune – when I was about 15. I had some (alot of) extraordinary food and various delicious and robust stews similar to this. The biscuits are intriguing and seem bizarre at first, but when you think about it they make sense.
    Beautiful writing, you two should be paid to travel around eating and writing about it.

  11. Ya don’t get beer like this at McSorley’s, do ya? That beef looks glossy, succulent and all that much better with the broad noodles. The gingersnaps? Ya lost me there.

  12. Nice job! This is one of those names that is totally abused in the US (where any stew with “beer” in it gets the carbonnade moniker). Love the authenticity and I’m very curious about the ginger-snap addition.

  13. @Rach – from your mouth to God’s ears. That would be awesome.
    @Peter – we’re on the same wavelength. i almost made the Homer quote my last line, but wasn’t sure everyone would get it.
    @Noelle – they aren’t super ‘pronounced’, per se, although the ginger definitely adds a nice flavor and the brown sugar in them works very nicely with the beer to give the whole thing that sweet-sour/agrodolce thang.

  14. Hi and hello to you!

    You both continue to excel in your pursuit of gastranomical (sp) wealth…. may you both continue to be in love with your passion…and be able to make a living!!!

    love you and miss you guyz


  15. what a wonderful experience you two had in France. and how wonderfully you made the most of it! i just love Chimay, i am like a pavlovian dog when it comes to this beer. love the photo and love the concept of curing a hangover with a dish that includes beer- not only that, but beef, too. gorgeous combination!

  16. My beef carbonnade recipe is almost exact, except I use light brown sugar instead of the gingersnaps.
    My grandmother always used gingersnaps in her stuffed cabbage sauce (tomatoes, cinnamon, rice, beef, and that crazy gingersnap cookie!).
    I had the $27. blue label burger from Minetta Tavern the other night for my hangover and I have to say, it was worth every penny, I was very surprised!
    Now I am craving carbonnade! Too much drinking!

  17. You sent me right back to Lille! I lived there for years, and I know exactly what you’re talking about when you describe the atmosphere. How strange is it that I never knew after all that time that carbonnade was made with gingersnaps? Great post and thanks for the recipe!

  18. Drunk. Frenchmen. Belly-Dancing.
    God, i hope it wasn’t me. hehe 🙂
    You guys make the best food. Did i ever ask you if i could move in with you?

  19. Once you have added ginger snaps to a sauce recipe, you will never forget the experience. Absolute perfection, though it is one of those secret ingredients that is best kept to a once a year, please bring your sauerbraten, so on and so forth!

  20. My beef carbonnade recipe is almost exact, except I use light brown sugar instead of the gingersnaps.
    My grandmother always used gingersnaps in her stuffed cabbage sauce (tomatoes, cinnamon, rice, beef, and that crazy gingersnap cookie!).
    I had the $27. blue label burger from Minetta Tavern the other night for my hangover and I have to say, it was worth every penny, I was very surprised!
    Now I am craving carbonnade! Too much drinking!

  21. I made this yesterday. It’s very good! It reminded me of sauer braten, but is a lot easier and quicker to make. I can’t wait to get home from work and have left overs! I’ll definitely make this again.

    1. @KelliGerl: Thanks so much! We’re delighted it came out well. Totally with you on the leftovers. Stews like this just get better the next day.

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