The basic recipe is very straightforward. You can make the carbonnade either entirely on the stovetop, or you can start it on the stove and finish it in the oven. If you’re going to use the oven, preheat it to 175C/350F.
Season the beef generously with salt and pepper and brown it on all sides in a dash of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot or casserole. When the meat is browned, take it out of the pot and set it aside, then deglaze the pot by adding a splash of beef broth and scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add the broth and bits to the beef, then drop the bacon into the pot and fry it over medium heat until it’s brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside with the beef.
Put the onions in the pot and fry them gently in the bacon fat until they start to turn soft and golden, which will take about 15 minutes. After the onions have been cooking for a few minutes, sprinkle over the brown sugar, which will help them caramelize slightly.
Once the onions are cooked, sprinkle the flour over them and stir it in (a lot of recipes call for tossing the beef cubes in flour before browning them, but I’ve found that you wind up just browning the flour instead of the meat when you do this). Then add the beef, bacon and any accumulated juices to the onions in the pot.
Now comes the fun bit: turn up the heat slightly, and pour in the bottle of ale. It will go all fizzy for a few seconds, but then it will calm down. Add enough beef broth to cover the meat and onions, along with the bay leaf, thyme, allspice if you’re using it, and some salt and pepper.
Bring this to a boil, then cover and place in the oven. Let it cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender (if you’re cooking the carbonnade on the stovetop, simply simmer it over low heat for 2 hours; you’ll have to stir it slightly more often to prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pot).
To finish the carbonnade, stir in a handful of chopped parsley and a tablespoon or two of mustard if you’d like.
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