Citizens! The moment of prophecy is nigh – the stars have whirled into their ultimate alignment, the lion has laid down with the lamb and the 4th Heavenly Host prepares to march into battle against the forces of darkness – oh, and yes, it’s also time to share one of the oldest of old-school French recipes with you! I speak of nothing less than the O.G. of stews, the legendary feast that is pot-au-feu!
Now, if you speak French you know that ‘feu’ is properly pronounced (feuh), which is exactly the same way you should properly say the Vietnamese word for beef soup, known as pho. Why the similarity? Simple – because pot-au-feu is the ancestor of Vietnamese pho, which was created when the French were occupying the country!
As noted in GREAT CHEFS OF FRANCE, by Anthony Blake and Quentin Crewe (Published 1978):
Pot-au-feu (“pot on the fire”) is a French beef stew. According to legendary chef Raymond Blanc, pot-au-feu is “the quintessence of French family cuisine, it is the most celebrated dish in France. It honours the tables of the rich and poor alike.”
It is difficult to know when the name pot-au-feu first appeared and when its meaning changed to describe the dish instead of the pot in which it is cooked. While pot was used to describe the rounded pot to cook on the fire at least since the 11th century (even in English) there seems to be no written trace of pot-au-feu until 1673.
In 1600, King Henry IV of France (1553-1610) declared, “I want no peasant in my kingdom to be so poor that he cannot have a poule au pot on Sundays.” Poule au pot literally means “chicken in the pot” and the so-called traditional recipe resembles the one of “pot-au-feu”.
However, peasants’ food was mainly based on bread (c. 500 g/day), root vegetables, in-season vegetables and soup. They rarely ate meat except salted pork, hog-grease, bacon, or other meat, whether it was during religious celebrations or when they dared to poach game from their lord’s land. For people living in towns, it was easier to buy inexpensive pieces of meat, which needed long cooking times.
The method of cooking all food together and for extended periods of time (the whole day sometimes) gave what was called a “pot-pourri” in French and imported into English in the early 17th century.
The relation between pot-pourri and pot-au-feu was attested in 1829 in the Etymologic dictionary of the French language: “Pot pourri. The name our fathers gave to the pot-au-feu”.
The cuts of beef and the vegetables involved vary, but a typical pot-au-feu contains:
- inexpensive cuts of beef that require cooking for long periods;
- some kind of cartilaginous meat, such as oxtail and marrowbone;
- vegetables: mainly root vegetables like carrots, turnips, parsnips, celery, onions but also white cabbage and leeks;
- spices: bouquet garni, salt, black pepper and cloves.
Cooking cartilaginous meat in the stew will result in gelatin being dissolved into the broth. If the stew is allowed to cool, the broth may turn into a jelly. Allowing the stew to cool also allows the removal of excess fat, which floats on the surface and solidifies.
In order to give the broth a slightly smoked taste and its typical brown color, onions are cut in half then charred in a frying pan protected by aluminum foil until the onion’s surface is completely black. The cloves are driven into the onions so that both onions and cloves can be removed easily before serving.
The pot-au-feu is a traditional dish of a variety of meats cooked with vegetables and water. It originates from the days of cooking over an open hearth. Bocuse, with his love of cooking on an open fire, has given the following recipe for stew, suitable for twelve people for at least two meals.
Now as to the unmatched chef who alone was Paul Bocuse…:
Since 1987, the Bocuse d’Or has been regarded as the most prestigious award for chefs in the world (at least when French food is considered), and is sometimes seen as the unofficial world championship for chefs. Bocuse received numerous awards throughout his career, including the medal of Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur. The Culinary Institute of America honored Bocuse in their Leadership Awards Gala on 30 March 2011. He received the “Chef of the Century” award. In July 2012 the Culinary Institute of America announced in the New York Times that they would change the name of their Escoffier Restaurant to the Bocuse Restaurant, after a year-long renovation.
Citizens, the great Bocuse is sadly no longer amongst us, but his spirit lives on in the many recipes he created at his 3-star Michelin restaurant in Lyon – and this is one of his great classics! That said – I *AM* The Food Dictator and I would dare to tweak ANY recipe, even one from the superlative Bocuse himself! My changes to the recipe are listed in the text below – be advised this serves at least 12 people and deserves to be served on your finest china and with your best silverware! Anything less will invoke the irate spirit of the masterful Bocuse to haunt your nightmares and will invoke MY wrath for disrespecting his mighty legacy. 😉
As a proper source for the best beef raised on grass I know, I endorse Painted Hills Natural Beef which you can find here.
I would serve this with a starter of snails with the classic French snail butter, personally.
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- Sawn lamb rib bones to line pot
- 3 ¼ pounds shin of beef
- 1 lb. beef shank
- 1 lb. beef chuck
- 1 lb. oxtail
- 1 lb. knuckle of veal
- 1 lb. neck of lamb
- ⅔ lb. carrots, peeled and ‘turned’
- ⅔ lb. turnips, peeled and ‘turned’
- ⅔ lb. onions, cut in ½
- ⅔ lb. leeks
- 1 head fennel
- 2 celery heads
- 1 parsnip
- parsley, thyme and bay leaves
- 6 marrow bones (TFD guess on number of bones)
- sea salt and black peppercorns wrapped in cheescloth
- 1 medium free-range chicken
- 1 black winter truffle
- 1 head garlic, sliced in ½ lengthwise (TFD change by slicing head)
- 12 cloves (TFD guess on number)
- 1 lb. flank steak (TFD guess on cut and size)
- 3 heirloom tomatoes
- Horseradish, whole-grain mustard, minced chervil (TFD addition) and sour cream, for serving
- Freshly-grated nutmeg (TFD addition)
- Toasted Baguette slices (TFD addition)
- Coarse sea salt (TFD addition)
- Cornichon pickles (TFD addition)
- Put rib bones in the bottom of a pot (a VERY large, heavy cooking-pot) so that the other meats will not touch or stick to the bottom of the pot.
- Set on the top of the bones the shin of beef and then the beef shank, beef chuck, oxtail, knuckle of veal and neck of lamb.
- Fill the pot with cold bottled water, making sure that the meat is covered. Do not add salt at this point. Bring to the boil over a very high flame (otherwise the broth will become cloudy) and cook for 20 minutes.
- Cut the leaves from the whites of leeks. Tie the whites together. Wrap the green leaves around parsley, thyme and bay leaves to make a bouquet garni and tie.
- Tie large round slices of carrot on the ends of the marrow bones to seal in the marrow.
- Tilt the pot and skim off the fat with a ladle. Continue to cook over a gentle heat for 20 minutes. Skim again, add salt and black peppercorns wrapped in muslin.
- Slide slices of truffle under the skin of the chicken , truss and put it into the pot.
- TFD ADDITION TO RECIPE: Char each onion half in a very hot skillet until the cut surface is black.
- Stick a few cloves into each onion half and drop them into the pot along with the halved head of garlic and all the vegetables.
- Simmer for about 40 minutes, skimming occasionally. Lift out the parsnip after 15 minutes and extract the other vegetables as they get cooked. (They can be pierced with a needle to check that they are ready.) Keep vegetables warm in a covered saucepan with a little broth. The chicken should also be removed when cooked and kept warm in the same way.
- Continue cooking the other meats for another 30 minutes, skimming from time to time. Remove the knuckle of veal and the neck of lamb . Cook the rest of the meats for about an hour and then add the flank steak (with a piece of string around it, so it can be removed easily), the marrow bones and the tomatoes. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Remove the meat and marrow bones and reheat the chicken and the vegetables in the broth.
- Put the shin of beef in the middle of a serving dish and set it around the other meats, chicken and vegetables. Strain, skin and season some soup and serve in a tureen on the side with the garnishes.
- Traditionally, the broth is served first with a bit of freshly-grated nutmeg and the marrow spread on toasted bread. Then the meat and the vegetables are served with coarse salt and strong Dijon mustard, horseradish sauce, and cornichon pickles.
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