Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France – Pot au Feu

Pot au Feu (pot on the fire) is a classic French stew and has been eaten all over France for centuries. In fact it's so deeply French that 19th century folklorist Ernst Auricoste de Lazarque declared, "All people have their soups. France alone possesses le pot au feu." There are many variations – in the Perigord veal is often the base whilst in Quercy the principal meat is beef – sometimes even a stuffed chicken is used. Usually a typical Pot au Feu contains cheaper cuts of beef that need long cooking; oxtail or marrowbone, carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, onions, spices, seasoning and cloves. In the past the Pot au Feu was always left on the fire with new ingredients added as some are used; nowadays houses do not have a permanent fire in cold weather, and the dish is cooked for a specific meal.

The dish is often served with coarse salt and strong Dijon mustard and sometimes also with gherkins and samphire pickled in vinegar. The Pot Au Feu broth can be used as a soup (often enriched with rice, pasta or toasted bread), as a base for sauces, or for cooking vegetables or pasta. In France there are ready-to-use concentrated cubes to make what purports to be pot-au-feu broth when water is added.

Le Pot Au Feu A L'Albigeoise

1 ¾ lb chuck steak
1 ¾ lb shin of veal
4 oz shin of pork
½ lb saucisson sec
½ lb carrots
4 oz turnips
2 sticks celery
5 cloves garlic, quartered
2 onions stuck with 2 cloves, roasted and halved
salt and pepper
bouquet garni
1 wing confit d'oie with fat removed
6 oz white haricot beans
1 small cabbage, cut into 6 pieces

The four kinds of meat should each be in one piece, not cut up before cooking. Put all of these, except the confit into the pot, cover with water and bring gently to the boil, then skim. Roughly chop the vegetables and add them and their seasonings, but not the haricots or the cabbage. Cover and cook slowly for 3 hours. Then add the confit, beans and cabbage and cook all together for another hour.

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