Belgium. The first question/comment I got from most people when I mentioned cooking food from Belgium was, “are you making Belgian waffles?” And the answer is yes, yes we did. We also made beef cooked in a thick, beer based suace with homemade fries. Terrible for a calorie count, but so delicious.
I learned that there are several types of Belgian waffles, which somewhat correspond to different regions. I also learned that what we wanted to make is Liege waffles, which use pearl sugar that carmelizes on the outside as it cooks.
I didn’t follow a recipe for the fries–I just went off the descriptions I read. Traditionally there is a specific type of potato that is used, but we just went with the basic russets that we could find locally. They were cut into thick French Fry shaped slices. Apparently the key (other than using the right potatoes…) is to cook the fries once, let them cool, and then cook them a second time at a slightly higher temperature. This was our first attempt at homemade fries. Since we don’t own a deep fat frier (that’s probably for the best), we just poured vegetable oil in a deep pan to the minimum depth we could to still fully submerge a decent number of fries at once. That’s another place where we deviated from tradition… It is traditional to cook in animal fat, which didn’t find very appealing or readily available. So basically, we made regular fries and served them with a Belgian meal.
Flemish Carbonnade (recipe)
I will preface this by saying that unless you want to eat this stuff for a LONG time or feed a lot of people, scale the recipe! We made the full recipe, which used 4 (!) pounds of beef. That is either a very good or bad thing, depending on your opinion of this recipe and like or dislike of eating the same food for a week straight.
This recipe started with small pieces of beef, which were seasoned with salt/pepper, dredged in flour, and browned in melted butter. Again, with the whole 4 pounds of beef thing (which happened to be precut in smaller pieces than the recommended 2-inch cubes), this took a long time! As usual, we filled the house with smoke from burning butter during the frying process. Side note: we used a lot more flour and butter than the recipe called for to coat and brown all of the meat.
The meat was transferred to the stock pot, since we still don’t own a Dutch oven. In the mean time, the onions were fried in the first pan.
The the pan was deglazed with beer (we used two bottles of beer instead of three, since it didn’t seem like enough liquid for all the beef). This was all dumped in the stock pot with a few bay leaves and the dried thyme.
We let it do its thing for a couple hours, the added the currant jelly and vinegar as I was cooking the rest of the fries.
Liege waffles (recipe)
I won’t pretend to know much about making the waffle batter… This was an all day affair with many steps that had 30 minutes, two hours, etc. between adding ingredients or kneading. Tyler used a day off from work to clean/organize/build shelves for the garage, and he was kind enough to make the waffle dough during the day! All I know is that it was a lot of work, took all day, and looked like this when I got involved (the white stuff is pearl sugar):
Just before dinner, I kneaded in the pearl sugar (ow.) and separated the dough into five balls.
After we ate the main course, we cooked these one by one in the waffle iron. It took a few attempts to perfect the temperature/cook time method, so we had a couple that were slight darker than intended.
The results? Another winner! The homemade fries were much better than what I’ve had in (American) restaurants, although they didn’t feel particularly exotic… They were, however, a great accompaniment to the carbonnades!! The beef had a good, rich flavor, and I was surprised at how thick the sauce was. Very good, very filling. That said… The waffles stole the show! We agreed that they really do not deserve to be in the same category as waffles. They were more like high quality pastries that just happened to be cooked in the shape of a waffle. I can’t say enough good things about the thick, delicious dough, and the carmelized sugar on the outside was amazing. These didn’t need any toppings… They were perfect by themselves.