Beef’n beer in a bowl

Flemish beef and beer stew

And so Intermediate Cuisine begins. The term is a 6-week trip around France, from the classroom and the kitchen, cooking regional dishes and learning about those regions and their produce. Then to Spain and Italy, Britain, Belgium and Sweden, Germany, Poland, Austria and Hungary, before returning to France for charcuterie. Splendid.

Today we were up north in Nord Pas de Calais et Picardie, on the Belgian border. This is the land of blonde beer and endives, or chicory as we’re prone to call it in the UK. Did you know that endive is a member of the dandelion family? And its root is used to make a coffee-like beverage called Camp Coffee. I grew up on this stuff because real coffee was just too bitter for me.

The dishes were Flamiche aux Poireaux, which is a covered leek flan, and Carbonnade Flamande, a Flemish-style stew. Simple fare. Chef knocked out both in the demo and we had to produce the stew in practical.

The flan had surprisingly light textures. This makes sense given the leeks were cooked straight into hot, foaming butter. A quick and vigorous stir, then lid on. Every few minutes get in there again for that stirring action. As chef said to us, “Love your leeks.” Stirring the butter and disintegrating leeks helps them combine into an emulsion. The hot water crust pastry was amazing and again, actually quite light. The filling was a bit tasteless sadly. Pity because I love leeks—it’s my national vegetable, after all—and what’s not to like about savoury custard. More seasoning, maybe? I’ll definitely have a go at this at home because my one previous attempt at hot crust pastry many moons ago was an epic fail. I’ve long been seeking a definitive explanation of the difference between a flan and a tart. I’ve had different, unconvincing answers from chefs so far. The mission continues.

Covered leek flan with hot crust pastry

Segment of leek flan

The stew was made with feather blade beef—quite possibly my favourite cut, by the way, blond beer (Leffe in this case), and thickened with country bread smeared with Dijon mustard. Beef and beer—what all growing carnivores need. The stew was a sweet and sour affair given other ingredients including brown sugar and white wine vinegar. It’s definitely something you want to eat with a doorstop of crusty bread for dipping. It was served with endive pan roasted in butter, lemon juice and a splash of water, then fried in more butter and covered in parsley. The bitterness compliments the sweetness of the stew really well.

Chef tips. Here we go.

When browning meat in a pan you want a high-pitched sizzle. A low pitch means the oil isn’t hot enough to sear and will cook the meat rather than just brown it.

The Sucs are the browned proteins on the bottom of the pan. That’s flavour town. But don’t burn it. If it’s beginning to catch, add more oil to cool the pan down. Alternatively, and more preventatively, put meat on top of the already established sucs.

Often recipes require you to add onions or shallots to the browned pan after decanting the meat. Turn the heat right down first, then add the onions or shallots. They will steam and release the sucs from the pan. Then turn the heat up to begin sweating. This is another way to begin deglazing the pan.