Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pot-au-feu (classic French beef stew)

Pot-au-feu (which translates into 'pot on the fire') has got to be one of the most famous and universally appreciated dishes of French cuisine. You will never find a French person who has not had this dish.
Click here for a little history and knowledge about the dish.

This wonderfully flavored, slow-cooking dish is a staple during the cold months of fall and winter; and it costs very little! It uses very cheap cuts of meat (typically chuck, oxtail, flat ribs and marrowbones) and seasonal vegetables (turnips, leeks, carrots and celery). It is served piping hot, alongside boiled potatoes and a ladleful of broth. The buttery marrow is spread on grilled sourdough and sprinkled with coarse salt... oooh, so good!

The great thing about this dish is that it makes tons of leftovers! Usually eaten cold, with Dijon mustard and cornichons (pickled gherkins), the meat can also be used for a sheperd's pie or in a grilled cheese sandwich with grated gruyere. In my family, the leftover broth was always reheated and used to cook tapioca beads (Perles du Japon) to eat as a light supper, with a slice of grilled sourdough.

It is really a great recipe to have in your repertoire! Try it, you won't be disappointed :)


Disclaimer: this is my own recipe and it involves a lot of steps, but this is I think really worth the effort and time as the result is divine. You can also go ahead and put everything in one pot and cook for 3 hours, it'll still taste amazing and it's a lot less work- just not as pretty ;)

INGREDIENTS (for 4 people, 2 people with leftovers, or 1 person with TONS of leftovers):
- 2 onions, peeled and whole (one will be used to brown over an open flame)
- 3 leeks (or as many as you like, I just had 3 available), reserve the green parts of 1 leek
- 9 carrots
- 5 branches of celeri
- 5 cloves of garlic, still in their skin
- 4 smallish medium turnips, or 1 large yellow turnip (that's what I used, because can you believe that my supermarket was OUT of turnips??? In the middle of October?!)
- 1 bouquet garni (click here for recipe)
- coarse salt
- 20 black peppercorns
- 4 cloves, whole
- 2 lbs beef chuck, whole piece
- 1 lb oxtail
- 1lb lean flat ribs
- 6 marrowbones
- not pictured: 3 large Yukon gold potatoes
- flat leaf parsley for decoration

RECIPE (takes about 4 hours start to finish):
- Put coarse salt on the marrowbones and reserve in the fridge until ready to use

- Take one of the onions, cut it in half, wrap it in aluminium foil and brown it over an open flame

- Cut the vegetables the size you will want to have them in your plate, keeping in mind that if you cut them too small, they will turn to mush in the final presentation. For security, tie the leeks with cooking twine so that they retain their shape while cooking

- Stud the remaining onion with the 4 cloves and crush the peppercorns with a pestle

- In a large stockpot, brown 1 carrot, 1 celery branch and the grilled onion in a little olive oil; this will be the base for the broth. Reserve until ready to use and drain any remaining oil from the stockpot.

- Tie the chuck with cooking twine and put the meat into the stockpot, along with the browned veggies, garlic, pepper, bouquet garni, studded onion and 14 cups of cold water

- bring to a boil, and simmer for 2 1/2 hours on low heat. Skim the brown foam that forms on top of the water regularly. Make sure that the water does not evaporate completely, and cover if necessary.

- after 2 1/2 hours, the meat should be really tender and the broth reduced and concentrated with flavor. Reserve the meat on the side, toss the by-now-overcooked veggies and filter the broth into a pot, through a thin dish towel draped over a sieve. Be sure to squeeze out all the deliciousness into your broth, that's where all the flavor units are!

- Put the meat back in the stockpot and pour the clear broth over it.  Add the marrow bones and the quartered potatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes

- Add the remaining vegetables (turnips, carrots, celery and leeks), and a little warm water if there is not enough to almost cover the veggies. Cover and cook for another 20 minutes over medium heat.

- Serve family-style, in a large dish

- Or in a single plate as follows: a little bit of each cut of meat, surounded by vegetables and a ladleful of broth. On the side, a slice of grilled sourdough slathered in buttery marrow and sprinkled with coarse salt.

- Bon appetit!!!

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