The Pot-au-Feu (Pot on the fire): a warming family beef and vegetable stew

The “Pot-au-Feu”‘s origin can be found from the 17th century in France, about the same period as the “Poule au Pot”. This is a peasant dish, that later became popular in richer circles too. The basic recipe uses low cost meat, mostly beef and winter vegetables. We can assume that in the 17th century, it was an opportunity to eat the least presentable or leftover pieces of meat, as well as using whatever vegetables were easily grown in the family garden. According to 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.”

Le Christ chez Marthe et Marie, detail, Jos Goemaer. circa 1600.

Le Christ chez Marthe et Marie, detail, Jos Goemaer. circa 1600.

Growing up in France, I definitely relate my memories of Pot-au-Feu to a Sunday lunch with the family gathered. The leftover were eaten cold the day after. (I am not crazy about having it cold, but since my very French husband loves it, I guess there is something worth a try!) Traditionally, we had first a bowl of the broth as a starter and then our serving of stew with all you can eat strong Dijon mustard and gherkins. As a child, I was not very attracted by the bone marrow that my mum and dad enjoyed spreading on warm toasted country bread, with a little coarse salt. But as a grown-up, I get it… I would say it is the French equivalent to Pork rinds…

This Pot-au-Feu recipe is broken down in easy fail-proof steps. I am doing my best for anyone who follows the steps to feel confident in the result. IT WLL TASTE WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE. Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients, I wrote the optional ones in blue. Since there is not much short-cut to the cooking time, I am suggesting that you either:

  • Cook in regular pot, and it requires 3 hours of simmering,
  • Use a pressure cooker, and it requires 1 hour of cooking once the pressure is reached,
  • Use a slow-cooker following temperature instructions suggested for a stew. If you can, I advise to add the vegetables half way through cooking time to avoid a soggy texture.

Pot-au-Feu recipe :

  • Serves 4-5
  • Preparation: 20 minutes
  • Cooking time : 3 hours in regular pot on the stove OR 1h15 using pressure cooker OR 8 hours using slow cooker

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs Beef (use low cost beef pieces, making sure there is some fat tissue).
  • Beef bone (optional)
  • Beef bone with marrow – frozen (optional) => If you choose to use a bone with marrow, leave it in the freezer until the last minute.
  • Pork or poultry leftover – i.e. neck / pork belly… (optional)
  • 3 lb of potatoes – I used Yukon potatoes, and plan one large for each guest
  • 1 lb carrot
  • 1 lb leek
  • 1 lb turnip
  • 1  large (or 2 small) yellow onion
  • 1 lb of green cabbage (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves in their skin
  • 2 cloves
  • Thyme + Rosemary + Bay leaf (also called Bouquet Garni – Garnished Bouquet)
  • 1 tsp salt , 1/2 tsp Pepper (coarse salt and 6 whole pepper corn preferably)
  • Dijon mustard + gherkins + coarse salt for service.

Steps:

  1. Rinse and pell all your vegetables, and cut them in medium size pieces: Carrots and leek 3 inches long, turnips in halves or quarter if very large turnip, cabbage in 2 inches wedge, potatoes whole, onion in halves.
  2. Pin your cloves in the onion(s)IMG_1363
  3. In a large pot (or pressure cooker), place all your peeled vegetables at the bottom, except the potatoes which will be cook apart
  4. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, salt and pepperIMG_1366
  5. Cover with water and bring to boil
  6. In the meantime, wash, dry and cut the pieces of meat in large chucks the size of your palm
  7. When the vegetables are boiling, add all your pieces of meat, and optional FROZEN bone with marrow, and cover.
  8. A/ If using a regular pot:
    -Bring to boil for 5 minutes.
    -Skim the foam deposit (see next image).
    -Then lower and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours, checking the amount of liquid from time to time (add a little water if  the pieces are more than 1 inch above water)
    B/ If using a pressure cooker:
    -Bring to boil for 5 minutes.
    -Skim the foam deposit (see next image).
    -Bring to full pressure for 10 minutes
    -Then lower the heat. Let it cook with natural release of pressure for 1 hour.

    IMG_1370

    A grayish foam rise to the surface. Skim it as much as you can with a large spoon. It is a natural part of the process, occurring with boiled meat.

    C/ If you use a slow cooker:
    -Start with the meat, seasoning and water, and half way through, add the vegetables (step 3).

  9. In the meantime, prepare your potatoes boiled style. You may boil them for 15 minutes, or use a steamer, following the manufacturer instructions.
  10. Once the timing is over, filter the broth from the stew, and let it rest for few minutes.
  11. Keep the stew warm in the pot, with a low heat or in a warm oven.
  12. You will see a layer of fat raising at the surface of the broth, take it off with a spoon, and discard.
  13. Reheat the broth and serve hot, in a bowl or cup as a starter.
  14. Dress the meat, vegetables and potatoes on a large dish, and serve it with a side of mustard, coarse salt and gherkins.
  15. If you used bone with marrow, set the bones on a side dish, and toast some bread to serve with it. The marrow is spread on toasts, just add a little coarse salt on the top.
  16. If you’d like, enjoy with a glass of Pinot noir! Bon appétit!wpid-img_20141207_1231092.jpg.jpeg

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2 Comments on “The Pot-au-Feu (Pot on the fire): a warming family beef and vegetable stew”

  1. […] The Pot-au-Feu (Pot on the fire): a warming family beef and vegetable stew […]

  2. […] The Pot-au-Feu (Pot on the fire): a warming family beef and vegetable stew […]


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