Cold weather comfort
Pot-au-feu will get you through
I love cooking outdoors, even in winter. The aromas of roasting meat and wood smoke intermingling in the crisp, cold air call out to me and awaken my appetite. Recently, however, the prolonged cold spell we’ve been having has taken away much of the appeal of cooking outdoors. When the cold winds of winter have chilled me to the bone, I long for a steaming bowl of aromatic soup or hearty stew. To get them through the windy, bitter cold mistral season, the French have an old-school dish known as pot-au-feu (pot on the fire), a traditional meal of boiled beef and vegetables. “Feu” is pronounced fuh, just like the Vietnamese soup “pho.” It is a dish born of humble beginnings, having evolved as a way of utilizing tough cuts of beef and the winter’s stored root vegetables. Pot-au-feu, slowly simmering on the back of the stove for several hours, will fill your kitchen with fragrant aromas.
Pot-au-feu is served in stages: first comes a bowl of the rich, strained broth with a thin toast and a marrow-filled bone with a silver spoon for scooping. This is then followed by a plate of the meat and vegetables, accompanied by pungent horseradish and mustard sauces and little pickles.
My pot-au-feu recipe may appear too lengthy and ingredient-heavy for many of my readers, but the cooking techniques required are very basic. If you can chop vegetables and boil water, you can make pot-au-feu. This is the kind of recipe that Chef David McMillan of Montreal’s Joe Beef Restaurant says evokes that nostalgic, “Why don’t people make this anymore?” feeling. He adds “Thankfully people see the value in making historically relevant dishes like this, and it stays with them forever and can live on.”
The dish has two ingredients that may be unfamiliar to you: marrow bones and celery root (or celeriac).
Cooked bone marrow is unctuous and sensual. If anything tastes better than butter to spread on toast, it’s roasted bone marrow. Resist the temptation of being put off by something new and different and you will be rewarded by a treat that smells and tastes like a spreadable, smooth version of a good standing rib roast. Chef McMillan says: “There is something about hot marrow in a cold climate; it’s the kind of thing you want to eat when the snow is melting off your boots.”
Celery root is the ugly duckling of the produce aisle. It is a gnarly beige orb with snaggly rootlets. Of Mediterranean origin, it is very popular in France, where it often appears on bistro and brasserie menus as cèlèri en rèmoulade (celery root in mustard-mayonnaise). Celery root’s cream-colored flesh is milder in flavor than its better-known cousin, stalk celery. When cooked, it takes on an earthy, sweet, herbal flavor and is a nice non-starchy alternative to potatoes.
Though ingredients many vary, a typical pot-au-feu consists of four components: inexpensive cuts of beef that require slow cooking, cartilaginous cuts such as oxtail and marrow bones, root vegetables and leeks and various seasonings. In pot-au-feu, the meat is not actually boiled but slowly simmered. The elements are cooked separately. First the meat is cooked and set aside. The cooking liquid will have been transformed into a flavorful broth, which after being strained and de-fatted is used to cook the vegetables.
-adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl
• For meat and vegetables:
• 3 pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat and tied with butcher string
• 1 pound oxtails
• 1 pound short ribs
• 1 pound marrow bones
• 2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
• 6 sprigs of fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
• 6 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
• 2 bay leaves
• ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
• 1 medium onion, halved and peeled
• 4 whole cloves
• 2 leeks, trimmed to about 6 inches – root end left intact
• 6 carrots, cut diagonally into 1-inch-thick pieces
• 3 turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
• 1 parsnip, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch-thick pieces
• 1 celery root, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
• Salt and pepper
For horseradish sauce:
• 1 6-ounce jar prepared horseradish
• 1 16-ounce container sour cream
• 1 teaspoon salt
For mustard sauce:
• ½ cup Dijon mustard
• ¼ cup minced shallots
• ¼ cup olive oil
• Salt and pepper
• Toasted baguette slices
• Coarse sea salt
• Pickled onions
Cook the meat and vegetables:
Place the chuck, oxtails, short ribs and 2 tablespoons of salt in a large stockpot. Add water to cover. Bring to a bare simmer, uncovered, and cook for 30 minutes. Skim any froth that forms on the surface.
Wrap celery, thyme, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with string. Stick cloves into onion halves and add to pot with the herb bundle. Continue to cook at a bare simmer until almost tender, about 90 minutes more.
Slit the leeks lengthwise to within 1 ½ inch from the root end; tie in a bundle with string. Add to pot and gently simmer for 20 minutes.
Add carrots, turnips, parsnip and celery root and continue to simmer, uncovered, until vegetables and meat are tender, about 20 minutes more.
Remove and discard the herb sack, leeks and onion. Transfer the chuck to a cutting board and cover with foil and keep warm.
Remove the short ribs and oxtails to a heatproof platter and discard any loose bones. Surround with the vegetables, leaving room for the sliced chuck. Cover with foil and keep warm in oven.
Pour broth through a strainer into a large bowl. Discard solids and clean out strainer. Line strainer with cheesecloth or damp paper towel and strain again. Carefully skim off fat that has risen to the top of the stock. Reheat broth and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
Cook the marrow bones:
Fill a saucepan with 8 quarts of water. Season with 1½ tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil.
With tongs, add the marrowbones to the pan. Add additional hot water to cover. Reduce heat, simmer for 20 minutes or until the marrow is tender.
Remove from heat and keep bones warm in pot, partially covered.
Make the horseradish sauce
Combine the horseradish, sour cream and salt
Make the mustard sauce
Whisk together mustard and shallots in a small bowl, then slowly add oil while continuing to whisk.
Stir in ¼ cup of strained broth and season with salt and pepper.
To serve the soup:
Place a marrow bone in each soup bowl and ladle broth over it.
Serve with coarse sea salt and toasted baguette.
To serve the meat and vegetables:
Remove string from chuck and cut into ½-inch-thick slices. Arrange on platter with the other meats and vegetables and drizzle some broth over the meat. Serve with the sauces and pickles.
Contact Peter Glatz at email@example.com.