I am in a food coma. I have a Duvel in my hand and a belly full of rumbly digestive noises. When I tell my Belgian friends that I'm going to make stoofvlees (a Belgian beef stew that uses a dark Belgian beer as the braising liquid) vegetarian they shudder with thoughts of "who the heck does this American think she is?" and "can it be done?" and "can i come over and try it and prove you wrong?"
The answers: she thinks she's awesome; yes and, yes and no. I had imagined using mushrooms the first time I viewed Jeroen Meus's version on Dagelijkse Kost. Something to soak up all the butter he uses and that will cook quickly and pair well with fries. This my friends, vrienden, is een echt lekkere vegetarische maaltijd. Now just imagine me saying, "nu we moet een kleine boter toevoegen daarna, ja, echt kleine stuk boter gesmolten." The contenders are a generous mix of mushrooms including bruine parijse, or basically compact and sturdy cremini mushrooms, along with white button mushrooms, diced white onions, lots of fresh herbs, garlic, Chimay blue (or to make it truly Flemish a St. Bernardus 12 or if I may be so bold to suggest a Westvleteren 12, or really any dark Belgian beer in the quadruple style with lots of spicy notes will suffice), mustard smothered bread, and butter - lots of it. I haven't even mentioned the fries yet!
Indeed, I did use a liberal amount of butter, but the resulting sauce is smooth and rich like velvet. The flip side of making this dish vegetarian is that you can make this dish fast on a weeknight, or when pressed for time. It cooks fast, and because it isn't stewing for hours the beer leaves more floral and fruity notes. You can serve it over mashed potatoes, but the hubs and I recently inherited a deep-fat fryer and attempted our first delicious batch of Belgian fries (how does one live in Belgium longer than two years and not get one is beyond me). They turned out golden, hot, crisp, salted to perfection with the proper salt to fry ratio. One naturally picks this up after watching numerous frietkot owners toss and toss and toss those fries.
This is a rich delicious stoofchampignon met frieten, or a braised beer and mushroom stew. Besides, every proper Belgian home has a frietketel or deep-fat fryer.
Beer braised mushroom stew with fries or stoofchampignon met frieten
Stoofvlees zonder vlees met champignons en frieten adapted from Jeroen Meus's Dagelijkse Kost
6 tbsp butter, all divided
2 cups white onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 and 1/2 lbs mushrooms such as white button, cremini, and portabello mushrooms (or 350 g brown mushrooms, and 250 g white button mushrooms) wiped clean then quartered and halved.
1/3 cup chopped parsley
dried basil (maybe 1-2 tsp)
1-2 bay leaves
1 bottle of Chimay Blue (or St. Bernardus 12, or a Belgian-quadruple style beer)
4-6 slices thin baguette smeared with strong dijon mustard
1/3 cup or more lingonberry jam, or other tart not sweet jam (apple butter is preferred)
lots of salt and pepper to taste
splash white wine vinegar to finish
- Get out two wide pans, preferably one cast-iron. Start melting 2 tbsp of butter over medium-low heat in the non-cast iron one. When it gets hot, add the onions and garlic and cook until they just begin to sweat. Then turn the heat off.
- In the cast iron pan heat up 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat. Add half the mushrooms being careful not to crowd the pan. When the mushrooms begin to release water add them to the pan with the onions. Repeat with another 2 tbsp of butter.
- When the mushrooms are all cooked add them to the pan with the onions and turn the heat to medium. Pour the beer into the cast iron pan and let it heat up. Meanwhile, add the parsley, basil, bay leaves, cloves, salt and pepper to the onion pan. Once the beer is bubbling add it to the onion pan. Stir everything together and stir in the lingonberry jam or the apple butter.
- Slice off 5-7 thin baguette slices (or 2-3 normal sandwich slices) and smother them with a fancy Dijon mustard. Place these on top of the mushroom stew and simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce has thickened up a bit. Alternatively, you can dice up the bread and stir in about 2-3 tbsp of mustard along with the bread. The bread will dissolve into the stew. It's so good.
- Begin prepping the fries. Check on the mushroom stew often; it will reach it's desired thickness usually within 30 minutes.
Fries or frieten:
Note: Count at least 2 potatoes per person and probably 3 for guys, trust me, everyone scarfs down fries.
4-5 fry potatoes
1 liter of fry oil, or frituurolie; peanut oil is fine
A heavy bottom pan with a thermometer, or a deep-fat fryer
Directions for fries:
- Peel fry potatoes and cut them into thick sticks about 1/2" or 13 mm. Do not wash them. Any water on the fries will be bad news for hot oil, and it will get rid of the starch which will make the first crispy layer on the fry.
- Pour 1 L of fry oil (in Belgium there is special oil for the art of frying fries called frituurolie or fry oil) or peanut oil into a deep-fat fryer and heat up to 280º F/140º C.
- When hot add in the fries being careful not to overcrowd the pan or fryer. Fry about 5-6 minutes or until the fries look golden. Repeat with all the fries. When the fries are done remove them to a heat safe plate lined with paper towels.
- Turn up the heat on the fryer to 355º F/180º C. When ready, fry the once-fried fries until they are golden-brown and remove. Serve with mayo. I won't judge if you serve with ketchup or mustard. Toss the fries with salt in a wide bowl, and serve alongside the stoofchampignonsaus.