What could be more appetising than a plateful of freshly picked spring vegetables? My picking from the fruit market looked like a still-life in the beautiful soft sunlight and so I decided to make a real, a true, a mouth-watering Pot-au-feu! Pot-au-feu is usually a winter’s dish but I enjoy it even better with young and tender spring carrots and new turnips whiter than milk teeth.
The lady next to me at the butchers where I was ordering my cuts, started giggling with glee and announced she was inviting herself for dinner! “A pot-au-feu! What a splendid idea : I haven’t eaten one for years!” she breathed with a glint in her eyes… This is only food, but some dishes seem to summon magic and comforting distant memories like a medium summons spirits.
Advised by the butcher’s daughter, I chose some slightly fatty cuts in the chuck and brisket so the slow cooking would release the fat without toughening up the fibres too much. I added a nice thick piece of bacon (not smoked) and of course plenty of marrow bones. These will cook at the same time as the rest and flavour the stew while adding a bit of roundness to the juice. I could also have chosen a thick, meaty sausage to go with it but the weather felt too warm for this. This serves four comfortably:
Diced beef (in chuck and brisket) 800g
Bacon slice 150g
Several marrow bone chunks
Bouquet garni (:parsley, thyme, laurel and sage tied in a bunch)
Carrots 5 young ones, left whole
Leeks, small and end trimmed to resemble a whisk, 2
1 large onion into which 5 whole cloves have been nailed
Turnips, 4 small ones, cleaned not peeled
Garlic, 3 whole cloves
1 handful of tinned chickpeas
Sea salt in crystals
Celeri, 1 stem
Clean and cut all of the vegetables, leaving them as whole as possible. Prepare the onion with the cloves and put it in a large cooking pot. Rub the marrow bones ends with the salt. Put the meat in the pot and season with pepper. Add the bouquet garni and the garlic. Cover with cold water and put on the hob. Let it get to a rolling boil then turn to simmer and leave for 2 hours minimum. Remove the foam with a sieve from time to time. The beauty of this dish is in the meddling of flavours during a slow and gentle cooking process that respects the integrity and the nutrients of each ingredient.
To serve, you need to present the meat and vegetable strained out of the “bouillon” in a large serving dish and pour the bouillon in individual bowls. Present it with thick slices of wholemeal bread, mustard, pickled onions and gerkins. You need to spread the marrow bones onto the bread, season with coarse salt and eat with the bouillon then enjoy the meat and vegetables with their condiments.
Serve a full bodied Burgundy with it? Or any suggestions?
Pot-au-feu is the most archaic way of cooking, meaning literally: “pot on the fire”. It is the sort of dish the very first inhabitants of this planet might have devised as soon as fire was conquered. Consequently, most modern nutritionists would agree that with its slow, constant cooking temperature and its balanced mix of ingredients, it is a very healthy meal indeed and so simple it deserves to be put back onto our modern tables!
“The apotheosis of the one dish meal, writes Alain Ducasse in his “Dictionnaire amoureux de la cuisine”, pot-au-feu is no high cuisine: no sophisticated know-how is required (..); just blending in harmony, pot-luck style, quite literally”. Perfect.