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In addition to being one of the greatest cycling nations on earth, Belgium is famed for its chocolate, its beers and such icons as Eddy Merckx, Jacques Brel and Peter Paul Rubens. Belgium also has some of Europe’s best food. It was after all the Belgians, and not the French, that gave the world its ubiquitous French fries. Not coincidentally the two neighboring cuisines are woven together, and at times inextricably so, beyond fried potatoes. Those of us lucky enough to visit Belgium will come away wowed by the country’s culinary complexity and the straightforward simplicity of gastronomic contributions that go far beyond frites and waffles.
Throughout Flanders, the gastronomic movement has captured the moment: the world’s obsession with fresh, seasonal ingredients, accompanied by boundary-pushing culinary technique. Along the cobbled streets of Ghent you’ll find cuisines from around the world; this is a city known for cutting-edge gastronomy, served up by some of Belgium’s most adventurous restaurateurs. Just a stone’s throw from Gravensteen, the city’s medieval castle, is the Mémé Gusta restaurant at Burgstraat 19. The focus for chef Jan Hendrickx is Flemish and Belgian traditions, done to perfection.
“Our Belgian cuisine is obviously inspired by French cuisine and we have in turn inspired them,” he says. “Here in Flanders we tend to keep our classical dishes very simple, with a focus on basic ingredients. Most of these dishes come from a time when people had to live with less, so they made the best out of what they could grow or forage. This modesty is a red line in our culture as well as in our traditional food. Boerenkost (or ‘farmers food’) is what we tend to call most of our traditional dishes, and in fact that’s exactly what they are and what we believe makes them great!
“We started Mémé Gusta with a focus on traditional Belgian dishes because we found that while many of these classics may be on a lot of menus, they are at times treated as an afterthought. Too often they’re prepared using shortcuts to make them cheaper and easier to serve. We like to poke and prod them a little, looking for ways to accentuate the flavors, but most importantly we don’t cut any corners. Most of these dishes don’t ask for much innovation; these original flavors work best the way they were intended.”
Stoverij, or Flemish stew, will sit atop almost every short list of the region’s culinary classics. Comprised of beef or pork stewed in Oud Bruin, Flemish brown ale, Stoverij is typically served over frites and with apple sauce, the ultimate in comfort food. “Every family has its own recipe, somewhat shaped by the region where they live,” says Hendrickx. “Flanders is very small but every 30 kilometers or so you can find a new variation, made with its own special twist: family traditions long kept by our grandmothers. Sometimes the recipes use pork, for others it’s beef, and some sauces are strictly beer while some may sneak some beef broth in there. At Mémé Gusta we use pork cheeks for our stew—these have an extra-tender texture when prepared correctly—then add some onions, some brown beer (Corsendonck Pater is our choice), some mustard, herbs and a lot of love.”
While it’s one thing to crack open a couple of Belgian beers come the spring classics, at Peloton we encourage you to take the next step and turn your classics fever into an all-day affair, culminating in dinner, to impress your friends and family. Turn the page for a classic take on a classic Stoverij.
This Is How To Make The Stew
2–2.5 pounds of beef or pork cubed into 1-inch pieces (Chuck and roast cuts of beef, or pork shoulder are often used in stews due to the long simmer times, rendering tougher cuts much more tender. Mémé Gusta uses pork cheeks.)
2 large onions
16–20 ounces of your favorite Belgian brown ale. I recommend you use an Oud Bruin from Petrus or Liefmans or you could go with a Dubbel like they do at Mémé Gusta. You can probably find one from Westmalle, St. Bernardus or Achel at a well-appointed beer shop.
3 cloves of garlic crushed
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 bay leaves
1 bundle of fresh herbs: 3 sprigs each of rosemary & thyme
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses salt pepper
2 slices of wheat or rye bread spread on one side with stone-ground mustard
- In a large Dutch (or, even better, Flemish) oven heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Brown the beef or pork until the edges crisp, around 7 minutes or so. Flavor with salt and pepper. Move the meat to a bowl.
- Add onions and garlic to the Dutch oven and cook until the onions are translucent.
- Deglaze the pan with the beer, then add in the stock and flour and cook for 2–4 minutes, stirring the flour to thicken the sauce. Add the meat back in with the vinegar and molasses, as well as the bundle of fresh herbs and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer for about 10–15 minutes.
- Add the bread, mustard-side down, and cook on mediumlow heat. When stew reduces down, salt and pepper, add the lid and cook for two to three hours.
- Remove the bundle of herbs, serve over fries accompanied by a glass of Oud Bruin.