I spent most of last week channeling my inner Irish Catholic guilt. I confess that’s because while what seems like the rest of the country was commiserating over the “Polar Vortex,” I was (as my Iowa-born husband used to say) happier than a pig in mud. Despite the unaturally brutal SC weather, my week was happily spent making one fabulous French stew after another. The kind of stews that take hours to reach perfection, very little effort to make and reward me, the dog, the cat and my neighbors with impossibly delicious feasts. The cold, somehow, made them taste even better. The recipe to follow is one of my favorites. Time to pull out the old Dutch oven (or substitute a sturdy stock pot) and get cooking. Spring, as hard as it may now seem to believe, is just around the corner. Adapted from my next cook book, The French Cook: Soupes et Daubes (Gibbes Smith, late summer 2014 release).
Pot au Feu
(Makes 6 servings)
Special equipment: Dutch oven, China cap or colander
Pot au Feu (pronounced pot-oh-fuh) is a centuries-old peasant dish that has worked its way into the hearts of the modern-day French. It’s one pot cooking at its finest and derives its name from the method of which it’s cooked, in a single pot. Similar to Boeuf a la mode in that it uses tough cuts (in this case a chuck roast), and is braised, it is different in a couple of ways. First, the beef is not browned and is simmered with beef marrow bones, in water as opposed to wine, which affords a silky, gelatinous texture to the jus. This jus is served over the sliced beef with a generous side of braised vegetables. A glorious Dijon mustard and horseradish cream as well as cornichons and bread are served alongside. Although it takes a long time (about 4 hours) to cook, this is a wonderfully simple and inexpensive dish to prepare. Cloves and cinnamon give it a warm, almost medieval exoticism that makes the house smell like Christmas when it’s cooking.
Pot au Feu
2 pounds chuck roast
2 large beef marrow bones (about 1 pound)
7 cups water
1 whole onion, peeled, pierced evenly with 5 whole cloves
1 celery stalk, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 3 or 4 coarse chunks
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
1 cinnamon stick
5 thyme sprigs tied into a bundle with kitchen string
For the vegetable garnish:
3 leeks, white and 1” of the pale green leaves only, halved vertically, thoroughly rinsed and tied firmly together with kitchen string
12 slender carrots, peeled, cleaned and tied firmly together with kitchen string
1 large turnip, peeled (cutting into the outer and inner skin, about 1/4-inch deep), halved, and cut into 16 large, equal-sized chunks (about 2” each)
1 – 2 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Mustard Horseradish Cream Sauce:
1/2 cup cold Heavy cream
1 heaping teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven, place the roast, marrow bones, water (adding more if needed to cover), clove onion, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, cinnamon stick, and thyme bundle, beef down first. Bring up to a high simmer over high heat, reduce to medium low. The goal is a very low simmer – do not boil! Cook, uncovered for two hours, skimming off rising foam and scum frequently along the way.
Remove the marrow bones and discard or save for your dog. Using a fork, remove the roast from the pan and reserve nearby. Strain the cooking liquid through a China cap or fine colander into a large bowl. Press down on the solids with a ladle to extract maximum flavor then discard the solids.
Return the roast to the original Dutch oven with the cooking liquids. Place the leek bundle, carrot bundle and turnips around the beef in the pan. Add more water to cover, about 1 to 2 cups. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Bring up to an aggressive simmer over medium high and reduce to medium low. Tuck the vegetables down around the beef. Simmer gently for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the vegetables are very tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized, cold bowl. Whisk vigorously to combine and mount into a soft whipped “cream.” Taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
To finish/serve the pot au feu, remove the beef from the pot. When cool enough to handle, arrange it in the middle of a large serving platter. Drain the vegetables from the pot and arrange artfully around the beef in their bundles (minus the string). Cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, reduce the cooking liquid down over high heat until there are just two cups left. Taste and adjust seasonings. Strain and drizzle about 1/2 cup over the meat and vegetables. Place the rest in a gravy boat or pitcher. Present with the jus and a bowl full of the mustard horseradish cream. If desired, scatter a dozen cornichon pickles around the platter.
Bon appetit. I promise you (remember, Catholic girls don’t lie) this is truly delicious. So delicious you can probably make whomever you prepare it for fall in love with one bite – it’s just that good.