Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pot-au-feu beef stew

Believe it or not, "sunny vale" can get cold and cloudy... This always comes as a shock after 8 months of ever-blue skies. We had our first rain shower two weeks ago. Then sunshine again (birds started singing like in springtime -they have no patience) but as I am writing this post, the call for a lazy afternoon by a wood fire, sipping hot tea while reading a magazine, is getting stronger and stronger. But before I slip into warm coziness, let me give you the recipe for pot-au-feu (literally: "pot in the fire"): a traditional wintry beef stew. This one was inspired by my 1991 edition of Larousse de la Cuisine (that my grand-mother offered me when I graduated junior high...). My mom's recipe (that I learned after cooking this one) is slightly different. I'll give it at the end of this post.
I can't describe how good pot-au-feu tastes. The meats and vegetables and so soft; the broth is so warming and fragrant. Pot-au-feu's flavors evoke so many childhood memories!

For 6 people:
Cooking time (total): 4 hours
  • 600 grams (1.5 pounds) beef short plate ("plat-de-côte")
  • 600 grams (1.5 pounds) beef shank ("gîte")
  • 600 grams (1.5 pounds) beef brisket ("macreuse")
You would also usually add marrow bones ("os à moëlle")... given that you find some. The cooked marrow can be spread like butter on toasted bread.
There are good beef cuts diagrams here and here.

  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves ("clous de girofle")
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • "bouquet garni": bay leaf, sprigs of thyme and fresh italian (flat-leaf) parsley tied together with kitchen string
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 turnips ("navets")
  • 3 parsnips ("panais")
  • 3 leeks
  • 4-6 branches of celery
  1. Pour 2 liters (1/2 gallon) cold water in a (very) large pot (preferably cast iron). Place the whole short plate in the water. Bring to a boil. After 10 minutes, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  2. Add the two other pieces of meat (whole), the onion (whole, peeled, with cloves nailed in it), garlic (whole cloves, peeled and crushed), herb bouquet, peppercorns and salt. Bring to a boil, skim then reduce heat again and simmer for 2 hours without a lid.
  3. Add the carrots and parsnips (peeled and cut in 3 lengthwise), turnips (peeled and cut in 4 crosswise), leeks (dark, hard ends removed, cut in 4 crosswise, rinsed and tied together - or one by one- with kitchen string) and celery (in 1-inch chunks). Cook slowly for another hour.
  4. If you are lucky and find marrow bones, poach them in slightly salted water 20 minutes before the end.

The broth is usually served separately from the meat and vegetables (as shown in the pictures). The broth can be filtered (through a fine sieve). Serve as hot as possible with mayonnaise (home made that is...), mustards (Dijon extra strong or whole grain) and toasted bread.

My Mom tells me that placing the meat in already boiling water keeps it more tender and flavorful than starting from cold water. She uses beef shank ("jarret") and short plate ("plat-de-côte"). She only cooks it for 2 hours total, adds the vegetables mid-way through and a few potatoes (peeled and cut in 4 or 6 pieces) half-an-hour before the end. She doesn't use parsnips (I had never eaten parsnips before this time, actually).