This is the first in a series of articles pairing Brussels culinary classics with beers brewed in Brussels. It’s taken until 2018, but there’s now a variety of beer being produced in the city, including but expanding from the spontaneous fermentation beers of Brasserie Cantillon and the hoppy ales of Brasserie de la Senne to IPA, porters, tripels, witbiers, and more.
To stress test this variety, instead of choosing one beer with one dish, we’re going to go about this a little differently – two beers will be selected on the basis that whatever the style of the beers chosen, they should pair well with a particular dish.
Each dish chosen for the series originates or has a long-standing connection to Brussels. Some of them are recognisable Brussels exports – pralines or fries – whereas others are more local peculiarities – think pottekeis or pain a la greque.
The only rules are: the beer has to have been brewed in one of Brussels’ 19 communes, and the dish has to have a verifiable link to the city.
First up: Stoemp with carrots and pork sausage, paired with Brasserie En Stoemelings La Tanteke and Brasserie de la Senne Jambe-de-Bois
With the days getting shorter and the nights colder, winter has almost arrived in Brussels. Time, then, to break out the filling comfort food. And what better comfort food is there than mashed potatoes and a good, thick sausage. It’s odd to think that so generic a dish as mash with vegetables could be a regional speciality, but there it is – stoemp (pronounced “stoump”) is a Brussels variant of the classic lowlands stamppot. There was even a restaurant in the city that just serves stoemp and a variety of meats, but it’s closed now.
One Brussels writer has described it as a “non-recipe”, and it’s not hard to see why. Stoemp is traditionally a dish of mashed potatoes with one or more vegetables, such as onions, carrots, leeks, spinach, green peas and cabbage, seasoned with thyme, nutmeg or bay leaf mashed in. Traditionally, it’s served with some form of fried meat – boudin, braadworst, grilled bacon, or fried mince. Even fried eggs.
It’s a rich dish, especially if you use copious amounts of butter or milk – and why would you not. The fried sausage provides all the roasted, rich caramelized flavours you would expect. One thing to consider – it’s not the most photogenic plates of food.
This stoemp includes carrots and shallots (it’s cribbed from the Flemish government Lekker van bij ons cookery site). Glaze the shallots and garlic in butter in a pan, then add the potatoes, carrots, rosemary and vegetable stock. Cover it until boiled, then mash in the pan with a little bit nutmeg, butter and milk, and serve with the sausage. Any sausage will do, so long as it’s big enough. In the absence of authentic bratwurst, any old thick pork sausage will do.
600 g pork sausage
1 kg potatoes
1 bushel carrots
1 clove of garlic
200ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
La Tanteke from Brasserie En Stoemelings is a 6% saison brewed with dried verbena leaves, made to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Brussels’ oldest state pawn shop, the Mont-de-Piété. Poured from the bottle, it is a hazy, dull orange colour with very little head, and gives off aromas of pepper, spicy clove, and stone fruits. The pepperiness is there in the flavor too, as ell as red berry and grape fruit flavours. It leaves a long bitter finish – the verbena maybe? The spicy, peppery aroma could pair well with the slight peppery flavour of the both the sausages and the stoemp, and the strong carbonation and the mineral bitterness in the aftertaste could be good to cut through the creaminess of the mashed potatoes.
Jambe-de-Bois, an 8% “Belgian Revolution” Tripel has been in Brasserie de la Senne’s core range as long as I’ve been aware of the brewery. The beer’s typically idiosyncratic label (and name) references the legend of a wooden-legged revolutionary during Belgium’s brief fight for independence from the Dutch. It’s a hoppy, bitter tripel, in the assertive tradition of de la Senne, with a herbal, grassy aroma alongside some more expected banana and clove-like aromas. It’s, for me, a tripel that has an almost mineral bitterness, with some stone fruit and berries to the fore in the taste. A sturdy, slightly spicy tripel could complement the caramel flavours of the sausages, while also providing a refreshing, spicy and fruity counterbalance to the fat and creaminess of the stoemp.
The clove and pepper flavours of the Tanteke complement well the slight pepper and sweetness of the stoemp, particularly the potatoes and carrots. The fizz and bitterness cuts through the richness of the sausages and the cream of the stoemp although it’s a bit much for the sausage. The stoemp and the sausage bring forward the fruitiness of the verbena and the Tanteke.
The Jambe-de-Bois tips over that bitterness into a harsher aftertaste when paired with the stoemp, and it’s not sweet enough to really stand up to the carrots or to the pork. In then end, maybe a more traditional, sweeter tripel could match better with this. more bitter than a traditional tripel, in the tradition of Brasserie de la Senne beers.
On balance, neither beer was a 100% success, but within the geographic strictures of the experiment, the pepper and fruit notes of the Tanteke paired better with the sausage and the potatoes; the Jambe-de-Bois, for my palate, was just on the wrong side of bitter for this dish. Maybe there’s another tripel being brewed in Brussels that could stand up better to stoemp.
We have a winner
Stoemp and pork sausage with Brasserie En Stoemelings La Tanteke.
The Next Round
Mitraillette , paired with Nanobrasserie L’Ermitage Lanterne Pale Ale and Brasserie En Stoemelings Hoppy Madame