Seems like half the work of eating locally comes in securing ingredients, inevitably from some combination of scouting farmer’s markets, tracking down pastured animals, composting, and growing your own from dirt and sunshine. The next forty percent of the local eating puzzle, at least for me, is in contemplating old recipes and playing with new ones, the goal being to combine raw materials in simple but interesting ways, ways that enable the materials to shine.

Those elements in place, the actual cooking often feels like a mere formality.

Such was the case with this Julia Child recipe for carbonnade a la flammande, which translates more or less as beef braised in onions and beer as the Belgians do. We ate the carbonnade alongside a fresh tomato salad and pan-roasted potatoes with parsley, and it was one of the tastiest things we’ve done yet with our Lopez Island beef. The best part was that with ingredients on the premises and a bulletproof recipe at hand, it wasn’t such a stretch to get dinner to the table. Plus the carbonnade is a nice way to work that stew pot back into the kitchen rotation, and right now you can find all of the supporting ingredients at farmers markets or in the garden.

Recipe: Julia’s Carbonnade a la Flammande

1 tbls pork fat or vegetable oil / 2-3 lbs beef chuck / 2 medium onions, halved and sliced / 1 large clove garlic, minced / salt & pepper / 1 cup meat stock / 12 oz beer, such as lager or ale / 2 tbls brown sugar / 1 bay laurel leaf / 2 tsp cornstarch / 1 tbls balsalmic vinegar / ¼ cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat a heavy ovenproof pot over medium heat. Render the pork fat or warm the oil. Cut the chuck into thick steak-like slices, approximately 3″x1″x1″. Pat dry and brown the slices in the pot, 3-5 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Add sliced onions and cook over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and a generous pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Stir and cook for another minute or so, then remove and set aside. Add stock and bring heat up to high, scraping browned bits off the bottom. Remove from heat and add beef slices in a layer on the pot bottom. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper, then cover with onions. Pour in beer, which should just cover meat, and stir in sugar. Tuck bay leaf into the center. Cover pot, place in oven, and bake for about 3 hours, until beef is falling apart. Check midway through: liquid should just be bubbling gently.

Remove pot from oven and pour pot juices into a sauce pan, and turn heat to high. Dissolve cornstarch thoroughly into 2 tablespoons of water and add, along with vinegar, to the juices. Reduce quickly over high heat. Serve beef topped with onions and fresh parsley, with reduced juices poured over it all. Feeds 6-8. Adapted from Julia Child.

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