Thursday, March 3, 2011

Beer- and-onion-braised chicken carbonnade with mushrooms and carrots over rice

According to Bon Appetit, from whom I ganked and modified this recipe, a carbonnade is a Belgian stew flavored by beer, onions, and brown sugar. To me, it's Winter in a bowl. Intensely warming, comforting, and satisfying. I always think we should take advice on Winter food from people who live in chilly places and especially those who consider beer not only a beverage, but an ingredient.

So hey, those carrots I planted about 6 months ago actually grew! You'd never know it by looking at the garden - it's absolutely covered in weeds and leaves and general badness. This weekend the mister and I are going to get it back in shape for Spring planting, which includes moving one of the beds into a full-sun spot. I tried to get by on less than that and it was definitely a bad move. Lessons learned in Gardening, Year One: employ preventative pest control (as opposed to frantic tearful hosing with organic soap sprays and still losing 90% of your plants within a couple of hours), and when the seed packet says "full sun", just freakin' plant them in full sun.

We're big fans of chicken thighs. They have so much more flavor than the breasts, but of course you can use them if you don't want this to taste too good. (Winky face.) The original recipe doesn't call for any vegetables, so I added them right into the stew as opposed to making sides. Easy peasy.

2 tbsp unsalted butter
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 tsp ground allspice (sounds weird, but go with me - it turns out delicious)
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small fresh red chili, minced, or a sprinkle of red chili flakes
2 tsp brown sugar
4 dried bay leaves
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 cup dark beer such as the Porter above, but really, I'd use any beer I had around
~ 1 cup beef broth, low sodium as always
handful of carrots miraculously overwintered from your garden, cut into bite-sized chunks
handful of the most local mushrooms you can find, sliced
1-2 tsp red wine vinegar, depending on how twangy you want it

white rice for serving (use my post-boil steaming technique)

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven. Sprinkle the chicken thighs evenly with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and the allspice. Brown them on all sides in the butter, then remove to a plate. Add the onion and brown sugar and allow to caramelize for a good 10 minutes, until they're dark golden brown and absolutely delicious looking. At that point I could have just eaten them with a fork. I'm an onion person. Anyway, add the garlic and chili and let them soften for a moment, then add the bay leaves and mustard. Return the chicken to the pot along with the juices from the plate. Add the beer and then beef broth to just cover the chicken. Toss in your mushrooms and carrots along with the red wine vinegar. Give the whole pot a nice sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover, turn the heat to low, and leave it alone.

Make your rice. 

After half an hour, uncover your pot and let it cook another 15 minutes or so to your desired liquid level. Reviewers of the recipe complained that theirs never "thickened up", and so had whisked in a little cornstarch at the end or floured the chicken before browning. I thought it was pretty great brothy as is, and since there's absolutely no shortage of flavor here that's enhanced by cornstarch or flour, why complicate it? Serve steaming hot over a big mound of white rice and quietly rejoice that Spring is just around the corner. 

Serves 4, takes an hour (half of that being hands-off).


  1. This sounds amazing. I'm especially intrigued by your rice cooking method. I'm going to have to try it. I don't have the best luck with white rice either, (Although I'm a master at making sushi rice). Do you think your method would work with brown rice too?

  2. I haven't tried it, but it's definitely worth a shot. Nothing worse than gummy brown rice. Blech!