Simple French cooking
This ultimately simple, wholesome dish will fill your home with the warm scent of cloves and beef broth, and feed you for days. Catherine made it for Sunday brunch when I was in Paris, and I made one here in Bordeaux.
In France, it’s as easy as boiling water, really. If you are very lazy, you can even buy ready-made packs which contain carrots, celery, onions, leeks and turnips—and even a bouquet garni (that’s the thyme tied up with a bay leaf). But fresh is best, always, and it’s simple enough to buy all these vegetables separately. You’ll want to peel your turnips and carrots. Catherine peeled small potatoes and boiled them separately to keep the flavour clean. But I omit the potatoes for myself, as I’m not a big fan of starches.
The meat should be very inexpensive, tough, gristly cuts, and one should have a marrow bone. The soft meat, such as brisket, is delicious to eat. The gristly meat lends a rich smoothness to broth by slowly giving up its natural gelatin, while the marrow bone imparts a depth of flavor and savory marrow fat.
Once the pot au feu is done, you remove the veg and meat to a platter, and serve with a nice strong Dijon. Please don’t bother with the whole grain variety: the punchy smooth yellow Dijon is best for this.
The broth can be served as a soup, or strained, cooled and stored in the fridge for later. You can use it as a lovely bouillon to add flavor to just about anything else you cook. I like to skim the fat off once it is cold and then simply reheat it, with a bit of sea salt, and drink it from a big mug while I’m working during the day. On a cold, grey day, there is nothing better!
I don’t think there is any trick to this recipe. It really is as easy as it sounds. Though I would caution to err on the side of prudence with salt. I barely put any in at all when I first cook it. And you must start with everything in cold water, or else the best flavours will not be coaxed out, and your broth will be flat.
When David was a child, he used to roll his eyes and say, “not again!”, upon learning his mother was making a pot au feu. He probably swore that when he was grown up, he’d never eat it again. But now, as an adult, when the weather starts turning cold, he eagerly gets out the big pot to make the dish that so reminds him of his mother’s warm kitchen, redolent with the fragrance of cloves and beef.
Beef: three different cuts — shank with bone, carileginous cut & fatty cut (such as brisket)
Veg: leek, turnip, carrot, onion, celery
Flavourings: salt, whole peppercorns, whole cloves (pressed into onion), bundle of thyme and bay leaf
place all ingredients in a large pot of cold water
bring to the boil
skim off fat and debris
lower heat and simmer, covered, for at least 1.5 hours
serve broth separately from meat and veg
enjoy with a strong, smooth Dijon mustard
Note: You can also make this recipe with goat, which is marvelous when cooked a long time. Make sure you get humanely raised goats that have been raised on pasture and grass fed. The meat is rich, not gamey and goes beautifully with the sharp mustard. Don’t forget the wine!