Beer Bathed Seitan Stew with Oven Frites
Testers: If you’re making the seitan for this recipe, use the Coriander Seitan cutlets BUT omit the cumin and reduce the coriander to 1/2 teaspoon. Also, here’s my first tester request recipe!
This richly aromatic stew is a vegan play off of Belgian Carbonnade à la flamande, a hearty stew simmered in dark beer and browned onions with notes of sweet and tangy punctuated with ample fresh thyme and bay leaves. With an ancient history and medieval roots, there are countless versions including some with the intriguing addition of gingerbread, but for this hearty seitan-filled concoction I went with the more commonly found flavor enhancers of brown sugar, tomato paste, and brown mustard or cider vinegar (or use both if you love them equally…I do!). Mushrooms sometimes are traditional additions to this carbonnade, and the addition of a touch of carrot or turnip adds a touch of sweetness and substance.
If possible, spring for an bottle of authentic Belgian dark beer from brands such as Chimay or Leffe. If you have a Belgian beer you already love, use that, but if you’re new to these beers note that some brands may have a higher degree of bitterness than you’re used to. If American beer is you only option, look for dark brown brews with plenty of hoppy flavor. Sometimes I keep it local and use Ommegang Abbey Ale, brewed in upstate NY for the complex malty, nutty layers it gives the stew. But I’d recommend against using stout or porter beers, as the sweet molasses-like taste isn’t exactly the right thing for this dish.
But the really right thing to serve with this carbonnade-styled stew are potatoes (or noodles laced with vegan margarine), and what better form than frites (the original Belgian french fries). We’ll skip the deep fry for oven baked frites, baked at a high temperature and tossed with herbs, a touch of vinegar and peanut oil. The frites bake up crisp while the stew is bubbling, ready to be served on the side or smothered with the flavorful gravy from the stew.
Tip: Don’t be put off by the number of steps for this dish; by prepping the ingredients before cooking it’s just a matter of stirring and sauteing, and the frites are a simple affair baked in the oven. Similar to a stir-fry, have all of the ingredients for this stew chopped and measured and ready to go. This carbonnade is put together in stages and you’ll want to be able to add the ingredients quickly, without having to stop and measure out or chop individual ingredients.
- 3 cutlets of Coriander Seitan or two 8 to 10 ounces packages purchased seitan
- 10 ounces cremini mushrooms
- 3 large yellow or white onions (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 2 teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups vegetable broth or veggie beef-flavored broth
- 1 pound turnips or carrot (about 1 large turnip or 2 medium sized carrots), peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
- 6 springs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 large bay leaves
- 1 1/2 (one 12 ounce bottle) cups dark brown (but not stout or porter) beer
- 1 heaping tablespoon prepared brown or Dijon mustard OR 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- A few twists of freshly cracked pepper
- 2 pounds baking potatoes
- 3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the seitan into bite sized chunks no thicker than 1/2 inch. Clean the mushrooms, remove the stems and dice the caps into quarters; if some of the caps are very large dice into six or more pieces. Peel the onions, slice in half and slice each half into the thinnest half-moons possible, no thicker than 1/8 inch.
2. In a 3 quart large stainless steel or enamel-lined cast iron pot (don’t use an unglazed cast iron pot), heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat until it ripples in the pan. Add the seitan chunks and fry for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the edges are starting to brown. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape off any bits of seitan that stick to the bottom. Transfer the seitan to a large mixing bowl and set aside; bits of brown seitan sticking to the bottom of the pot are normal. Pour in 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth and bring to a simmer, stirring the bottom of the pot to deglaze the bits of browned seitan. When most of the bottom of the pot looks free of seitan bits, pour these juices on top of the cooked seitan you just set aside.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pot, heat until rippling and add the mushrooms. Saute for 2 minutes, then cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Uncover and stir the mushrooms a few times then transfer to the bowl on top of the seitan. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pot, add the onions and saute for 5 minutes or until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the garlic, brown sugar, and tomato paste to coat the onions and fry for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are very soft and juicy. Sprinkle and stir in the flour a tablespoon at a time. Continue to stir occasionally and fry the onions for another 3 minutes; the mixture will look thick and pasty. Pour in the vegetable broth and stir the bottom of the pot vigorously to dissolve any browned bits into the broth. Stir in the seitan, mushrooms, turnip or carrot, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring stew to an active simmer for 2 minutes, turn the heat down to medium low and pour in the beer. It will foam and then settle, stir a few times and partially cover the pot. Simmer the stew for 22 to 26 minutes, or until the carrots and turnip are very tender. Stir the carbonnade occasionally, partially replacing the lid after each time. The flour will help cook the broth into a silky light gravy.
4. While the stew is simmering, prepare the oven frites. Peel the potatoes or scrub very thoroughly if you’d rather leave them on (for European-style frites I like to peel the potatoes), and slice into thin french fry shapes no thicker than 1/2 inch. Place in a large mixing bowl, pour on peanut oil and toss thoroughly to coat the potatoes with oil. Sprinkle on the vinegar, thyme, and salt and toss to coat again. Spread the frites on the parchment paper covered baking sheet in a single layer and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, turn each frite over and bake another 5 to 8 minutes until the edges are browned and crisp. Turn the oven off and keep the frites in the oven to stay warm.
5. When the carrots are tender, turn off the heat and remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Stir in the mustard or vinegar (or both), add a few twists of black pepper and let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Serve either with hot oven frites on the side or pour the stew on top of frites piled into wide, shallow bowls. If preferred, this carbonnade can also be served with plain boiled or mashed potatoes or wide noodles tossed with a little vegan margarine.