Sunday, 12 July 2015

Tour de France Food and Drink Stages 1 to 4


n the last year or so I have taken to trying to match some of the regional food and drink to the stages of the Tour de France when I watch it on TV.  This year, as I am no longer working from home, time is a little short, so my approach has been much more impressionistic (appropriately) than, say, last year when I managed a different beer or wine for every stage.  An added complication this year has been that the start of the tour has been entirely in the north of France, Belgium and the Netherlands which means no wine regions at all.  Last year, at least, after a beery start in Yourkshire and Flanders we travelled to the Champagne region and Alsace. 

Stage 1 and 2 took place in the Netherlands, a country with as interesting a cuisine as its landscape.  Try as I might I couldn't seem to find a typical Dutch recipe other than the fact they eat meat and vegetables.  Great.  No wonder the most interesting food in the Netherlands comes from Indonesia.

However Stage 2 went through the town of Gouda which, apart from Edam, is about the only Dutch food product you can buy in a UK supermarket.  Not all Gouda has to come from Gouda but Tesco's mature Gouda does and very good it is too.  A long way from the mild Edam substitute most supermarkets sell.  Strong and nutty.  Gouda was first mentioned in the twelfth century which makes it one of the oldest recorded cheeses in the world.

Getting a Dutch beer also proved quite tricky (compared with obtaining Belgian beer, for example) but I went for Amstel, not because it is particularly interesting (still better than Heineken, though) but because it has a strong link to cycling in that the brewery is a long time sponsor of the Amstel Gold classic cycle race.

Stage 3 was entirely within Belgium and here I was rescued by Tom Murrath with  a link to a Belgian recipe for stoofvlees.  This was a beef stew with beer and was a very straightforward and delicious recipe, although I simplified it somewhat.  I cooked a chopped onion (the recipe says not too finely chopped) in a casserole and browned the beef in a heavy frying pan.

Once the meat has browned (it needs to fry, not stew, so a reasonably high heat and continuous turning is called for) put it the casserole with the onions and some salt and pepper.  Belgians will add local apple-pear syrup at this point but I left it out, due to its unavailability and the sugar content.  Then deglaze the frying pan with brown Belgian beer.  I sued some Leffe, a beer, I confess, to never having had before.  Once the beer has reached boiling point, pour it into the casserole with the meat and onions.  I added a bouquet garni and topped it up with more beer.

You then need to spread mustard on two slices of dark bread (I used rye bread as I am not supposed to have too much wholemeal) and put it mustard side down on top of the mixture. Then cook on a low heat for three hours.  You can leave the lid off the casserole until the sauce gets thick enough. Belgians add a dash of vinegar at this point which, with the syrup, gives a sweet and sour effect.

In Belgium they serve this with chips and mayonnaise (inevitably) but I don't have a deep fat fryer and, anyway, I'm not really allowed chips, so it was just peas for me.  In fact the recipe is rich enough that it doesn't really need anything else.   This was a really delicious recipe which I will make again.  The meat, after three hours cooking, is really tender and absorbs the bear.  The bread disintegrates nicely and infuses the sauce with the mustard.  I drank the rest of the Leffe with it which was a very fine beer indeed, dark brown with a beige, frothy head; very malty, chocolatey and quite sweet.

Normandy and Brittany next!


  1. I have heard that the Belgians make the best chips, there is even a shop in Glasgow these days which sells them although I never have enough room as it has to be an Indian if I am in Glasgow.

    1. They are good. interestingly this had them being deep fried first and then baked!

  2. Bravo... not much to plan with in those early stages.. Dutch cuisine seems a little dull... much like their beer; Heineken, no wonder they export so much of it... :o) Belgium has more beers than you can shake a stick at, and I have been to numerous beer festivals there, but have come to the conclusion that with one single exception* I don't really like the Belgian beer "style"... they have a distressing habit of putting fruit in their beer at any opportunity (why??)... it's usually very sweet, and also a little too strong... looking forward to Brittany/Normandy... good luck finding a decent Biere de Garde here, I suspect you'll go for a cider for Normandy, but a youthful over indulgence has meant I gag at the mere smell ever since!

    * Duvel - there is a reason it comes in a small bottle though...

  3. Enjoy the Leffe, it is a very fine beer. Regarding Dutch food, they don't seem to have much in the way of a national dish per se, but I have enjoyed a very good jugged hare with apple/ potato mash & a superb pea & smoked sausage soup whilst holidaying in Amsterdam, so all is not lost.
    Very much enjoying your forays into matters culinary.
    Regards HGA.