Stoofvlees is the ultimate comfort food. This thick, decadent Flemish beef stew is cooked for hours and hours in Belgian beer and served with fries. Try our recipe the next time you’re craving something hearty and heartwarming.
We’re writing this three years (to the day) after we moved to the Netherlands. In those three years, we’ve tried and cooked an array of Dutch food. We’ve become converts to eating pindasaus with fries, enjoy bitterballen with our beer, and believe the stroopwafel may be the best cookie on earth.
However, none of those things come close to bringing us as much delicious pleasure as stoofvlees. And stoofvlees is in fact Flemish.
And yes – we did eat stoofvlees for the first time in Flanders, the Dutch-ish region of Belgium. Flanders is home to some really incredible cities like Antwerp and Bruges. They have fantastic food, amazing beer culture, and beautiful architecture.
Luckily, stoofvlees is also found far and wide in the Netherlands. Additionally, we realized pretty quickly that it’s easy to make. It is just beef stew after all. So we perfected our version so we could enjoy this comfort food whenever the mood strikes.
What is stoofvlees?
Stoofvlees translates to “stew meat.” Though specific recipes vary, at its base, it is a beef stew made with Belgian beer.
It is always served with frites, with mayonnaise (or aioli if you’re in Belgium). Here in the Netherlands another common accompaniment is brown bread with mustard.
There are a few ingredients in this recipe worth talking about a bit. You can read a full list of ingredients in the detailed recipe below.
Beer is the star ingredient in stoofvlees. You really want to use a Belgian beer for this as it’s what gives the stew most of its flavor. We strongly prefer and recommend a brown Belgian ale. We prefer it because it has a deeper, rounder flavor than a blond.
We wrote this recipe using Leffe Bruin because it’s inexpensive and can be found internationally. But you won’t go wrong with any brown beer – as long as it’s Belgian.
Beef is the core ingredient. Pick your favorite cut for stew, which hopefully has some fat. You’re going to cook it a long time, so it will break down.
The beef gets a whole lot of flavor by being marinated prior to getting cooked. The marinade starts with four cloves of garlic, minced. We also mince a small onion so it imparts as much of its flavor as possible. You could use a shallot here too.
We use three different types of paprika: hot, sweet, and smoky. But use what you have. For herbs, we use dry thyme and fresh rosemary.
The marinade is completed with mustard and vinegar. We use a Dutch-style whole grain mustard that has a nice kick. You can use red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar. We have “brown” vinegar which we’ve honestly never seen anywhere else but is quite neutral.
We love onions, so in addition to the minced onion that hangs out with the beef, we also add a large onion (which we chop larger) to the stew itself.
Marinating the beef
No big tip about how to marinate the beef. We just wanted to encourage you to marinate it for as long as possible. If you don’t have time, 4 hours will do, though.
Cooking the stew
You cook this stew much like any other. You sear the beef, deglaze, and cook for a long time.
The (slightly) tricky bit about this particular recipe is that the beef has a marinade all over it. And you toss it in flour right before cooking. So it sticks to the bottom of the pot quite a bit. In fact, a crust forms.
Therefore, after adding the beer, you will really need to put some effort into deglazing. You want to scrape up every bit of that crust that has formed. Every brown bit of goodness will add delicious flavor to your stew.
We recommend turning the heat down to low as you do this, and be careful of the hot liquid as it can splatter.
The stew will reduce as it cooks. This is meant to be a very thick stew. This is not one you can just set and forget. You’ll need to check on it throughout the cooking process. It will stick to the bottom of the pot along the way. As such, during the 4-5 hours of cooking, lift the lid and give it a stir every 45 minutes.
Editor’s note: if you happen to get complacent and your stew does stick to the bottom of the pot (as it did literally 10 minutes after writing the above), don’t fret! Simply pour in a little water and scrape away. It will actually add even more flavor. But don’t push your luck – keep a close eye on it from here on out.
We love carrots in stew. What we don’t love is how carrots taste after cooking in stew all day.
So we came up with a good fix. We sauté them up quickly with some garlic and rosemary and add them to the stew for the last half hour of cooking.
We also add a final dollop of mustard at this point to make sure that flavor really comes through. Other recipes recommend putting mustard-slathered pieces of bread actually in the stew to cook, which also thickens it.
We prefer our (crusty) brown bread served on the side. Plus perfectly cooked fries of course
How we really cook our stoofvlees
Since everyone always says stew tastes better the next day, we actually split the cooking of our stoofvlees over two days. We cook it for 2-3 hours the first day and then let it hang out in a cool place overnight.
We then cook it the rest of the way the next day. We almost wrote the recipe this way, but figured no one would want to make it. But if you do have the time, give it a try. The flavors that develop this way are truly incredible.
For the beef and marinade
- 1 pound beef, cubed
- 1 small onion, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp hot paprika
- 1 Tbsp mustard (course, Dutch-style preferred)
- 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
For the stew
- 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp flavorless cooking oil, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 bottle Belgian brown ale (30 cl or 12 oz depending on where you live)
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 cup water
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp mustard (course, Dutch-style preferred)
For the carrots
- 1 large carrot
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1/4 tsp olive oil
- Pinch of salt
- A few grinds of black pepper
- Cut the beef into ~1-inch cubes. Mix together with all other ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- Remove the beef from the fridge at least 20 minutes before you start cooking to take the chill off.
- Remove the rosemary from the beef and mix in the flour.
- Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Cook the beef in batches (depending on how large your pot is) for ~3 minutes per batch until it starts to brown. Remove and reserve the beef.
- Add 1 Tbsp oil to the pot and sauté the onions for 2-3 minutes until soft. Note, you'll be cooking them in a pot that's a bit crusty and brown on the bottom, but it's all good.
- Deglaze the pot with the beer. Scrape up ALL the brown bits. Turn the heat down to low as you do this, and be careful of the hot liquid as it can splatter.
- Add the beef (and any juices) back to the pot along with the broth and water. Add in the brown sugar, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Turn the heat up to bring it to a boil. Cover and turn the heat all the way down to low.
- Cook for 4-5 hours. Every 45 minutes to an hour, lift the lid and give it a stir. At some point the stew will start sticking to the bottom of the pot, so this step becomes more important later in the process.
- 1 hour before you want to eat, heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and sauté the carrots with a pinch of salt and pepper for 3 minutes. Add the rosemary and the garlic and cook for another minutes.
- Stir the carrots and that last teaspoon of mustard into the stew and cook for another hour on low uncovered. Keep an eye on it and scrape the bottom when necessary.
- Serve the stew with crusty bread and Belgian frites or well-roasted potatoes.
- This recipe was adapted from the recipe on Global Table Adventure. We think their method of marinating the beef is genius.
- Since everyone always says stew tastes better the next day, we actually split the cooking of our stoofvlees over two days. We cook it for 2-3 hours the first day and then let it hang out in a cool place overnight. We then cook it the rest of the way the next day. We almost wrote the recipe this way, but figured no one would want to make it. But if you do have the time, give it a try. The flavors that develop this way are truly incredible.