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Carbonnade of Beef with Prunes
This fabulous stew, based on an idea from Belgian cuisine, is cooked with a delicious secret ingredient: beer.

5 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless beef chuck for stew, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 cup beef stock
3/4 cup pitted prunes, quartered
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
8 sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, torn into pieces, plus 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley for garnish
4 cloves
3 cups amber or dark beer (not porter or stout)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a deep, ovenproof kettle with a tight-fitting lid, heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over moderately high heat. Dry meat thoroughly and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Sear meat in batches until deep brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. (Do not overcrowd pan or meat will not color properly.) Remove meat with slotted spoon and set aside. Add the remaining vegetable oil and the onions, and sauté onions, stirring frequently, until nicely caramelized, about 7 to 8 minutes. Set onions aside.
3. Increase heat to high and deglaze the pan with the beef stock, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Boil for 5 minutes, until stock is slightly reduced. Turn off heat.
4. Put a layer of the browned meat on the bottom of the kettle, followed by a layer of cooked onions. Sprinkle with half the prunes, half the thyme, and half a teaspoon of salt. Repeat this process and sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. In a piece of cheesecloth, tie up the bay leaves, parsley sprigs, and cloves. Tuck this into the middle of the stew.
5. Pour beer over the stew and bring to a boil. Cover the kettle with the lid and place in the oven. Cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes, and check the meat for doneness. (Meat should be fork tender but not falling apart. The stew might take another 15 minutes.)
6. Remove cheesecloth bag, adjust seasoning, and sprinkle with chopped parsley just before serving. Carbonnade can be made up to several days ahead. Cool and refrigerate, tightly covered. Bring to room temperature and rewarm gently. Garnish with parsley just before serving.

One of our secret gastronomic hopes is that after the Mediterranean hubbub dies down, Americans will pay a little more attention to the superb cuisines of northern Europe. This fabulous stew, based on an idea from Belgian cuisine, is cooked with a delicious secret ingredient: beer. Make sure to pick a dark beer that's full-flavored, but not too bitter; Brooklyn Brown Ale from the Brooklyn Brewing Company is an ideal choice. Serves 4