Beer, bacon and caramelized onions all come together in this hearty Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Beer. Known as Carbonnade Flamande in Belgium, this slow cooker beef stew is flavored with just the right amount of warming spices! Using a crockpot makes it weeknight easy, especially with my tips!
This past April, I explored the historic city of Bruges in Belgium – and had my first introduction to Carbonnade Flamande! After 10+ days in Paris I was ready for some comfort food, and this Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Beer – or Carbonnade Flamande absolutely hit the spot – and went on my list of dishes to research and make when I got home.
History of Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Beer
Carbonnade Flamande is an old peasant dish and can be found throughout Belgium as well as the northern portion of France that borders Belgium and Germany.
As you might expect their are a number of variations of this this Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Beer – from the type of beer used, to additional spices (in the Alsace region many recipes call for adding a slice of Pain d’epices -a spice bread- to the stew!) to other vegetables being added – Jacques Pepin adds carrots and potatoes to his version.
So, what is a cook to do??
How to Make this Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Beer
- The “keys” to this dish are caramelized onions and using a good beer – one that you enjoy the taste of – and if that means you have to sample one or two to get the right one… well, it’s a tough job and somebody has to do it, right?
- A Belgian ale works but other beers work as well – I used a Samuel Adams Winter Lager but their Fresh as Helles would work beautifully too!
- Cook the bacon in the slow cooker if your slow cooker has a saute function. If it doesn’t, no worries – you can cook the bacon, brown the meat and caramelize the onions in a skillet and then transfer them to the slow cooker.
- Spend the extra time to really caramelize the onions. Tip: you can caramelize the onions a few days before you make the stew or, better yet, make a large batch and freeze them and then just add them to this Slow Cooker Beef Stew.
That’s the color of caramelized onions you want!
Looking for more Stews? Check out these recipes for more winter warmers!
- Chasseur Style Beef Stew
- Chicken Stew with Lemon, potatoes, artichokes and olives
- Cider Vinegar braised chicken with carrots and noodles
- St. Patricks Beef and Guinness Stew
And if you want even more things to make with beer, check out these Helles Herb Parmesan Pretzels !
Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Beer
- 4 slices bacon chopped
- 2 lbs beef chuck cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1/4 cup flour
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 3 yellow onions thinly sliced
- 1 12 oz. bottle belgian style ale
- 1 cup beef stock
- 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
- Add the bacon to the crockpot and set on the medium saute setting. Cook the bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes.
- Remove and drain on paper towels and set aside. When cool, crumble the bacon.
- Toss the beef with the flour and season with salt and pepper. You can do this in a bowl, or add the flour, salt, and pepper to a Ziploc back and add the beef in batches. Shake the bag to coat the beef.
- Add the beef to the crockpot in batches and brown the beef on both sides, keeping the crockpot set to the medium saute setting.
- You want a nice sear on the beef. The beef is ready to turn when it easily releases from the bottom of the pan. Remove the beef as it browns and set aside.
- After browning all the beef, add the onions keeping the crockpot on the "saute" setting. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 – 20 minutes until the onions are soft and and golden brown.
- Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add 1/2 of the beer and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Let reduce for about 4 minutes.
- Add the stock, brown sugar, cider vinegar, thyme, bay leaf, and tarragon and stir to combine.
- Add the beef back to the crockpot and stir to combine.
- Put the lid on the crockpot and change the setting to slow cook, medium for 3 hours. If you crockpot does not have a medium setting, set to high and check the stew after 2 hours for tenderness.
- When the stew is tender, remove the lid from the crockpot and taste, adding more salt and pepper as needed.
- Stir in the bacon.
- Serve over noodles, rice or with a side of bread to sop up the sauce.
For Crockpots without the Saute setting:
- Cook the bacon for about 3 minutes in a skillet until crisp.
- Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. When cool, crumble the bacon.
- Add the flour-coated beef, in batches to the same skillet and cook over medium-high heat until the beef is browned on both sides. You want a nice sear – if the beef sticks to the pan, that's ok, it's ready when the beef easily releases from the bottom of the pan.
- After searing all the beef, add the onions. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the onions for 15 – 20 minutes or until the onions are soft and golden brown.
- Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the beer and scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.
- Add the onions and beer mixture to the crockpot and proceed with the recipe.
- There are a number of different brands of crockpots on the market with varying levels of heat. I made this stew in an Instant Pot using the slow cooker function. Depending upon your brand of crockpot, you may need to cook the stew longer to achieve tenderness.
- Make sure to cut the beef in 1 inch cubes – this helps the beef cook more quickly and evenly!
- The true “key” to this dish is to use a good beer – one that you enjoy the taste of. A nice belgian ale works nicely here, but others beers work as well – I used a Samuel Adams Winter Lager.
- Secondly, spend the extra time to really caramelize the onions. Tip: you can caramelize the onions a few days before you make the stew or, better yet, make a large batch and freeze them and then just add them to the stew!
- To caramelize the onions if making ahead: Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a large skillet and then add the onions and stir to coat the onions with the melted butter. Cook over medium heat until the onions become soft and then lower the heat to medium low.
- REHEATING: This stew is actually better if made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. You can re heat the stew on the stove, or add it back to the slow cooker and set the heat to high to re heat the stew – in my Instant pot this took about 20- 30 minutes.
- STORAGE: this stew will last in the fridge for 2 or 3 days and can be frozen for up to 3 months. Transfer the stew to a freezer safe container, label and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and re heat according to the directions listed above.