Pot au feu: A winter retreat

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For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, winter is definitely here. With the shorter days, blustering winds, occasional snow, and sub-zero temperatures, this kind of climate calls for food of a heartier kind that warms both body and soul. So earlier this week, with that in mind, I made pot au feu, a traditional French beef stew and also the origin and inspiration behind the much loved Vietnamese phở noodle soups (also pronounced the same way). Not only is pot au feu hearty, but it lends itself well to communal eating as well… if you wish.

At its heart, pot au feu is made from stewing a combination of different cuts of meats and bone. It’s up to you what you use, there really isn’t a wrong way. Select both fatty and leaner cuts of meat, along with cartilaginous bone and you’ll have a great pot au feu on your hands. You’ll also be using seasonal root vegetables to round out your stew. Again, it’s up to you what you put in. I like the combination of carrots, turnip, and onions – potatoes and celery are also popular additions.

Ingredients: (serves 4-5)

  • 1 lbs. of beef shoulder roast (preferably with the bone), leave whole
  • 1 lbs. of beef round roast, leave whole
  • 1 oxtail and or 3-5 pieces of bone marrow
  • 0.75 lbs. of beef sirloin or other lean meat, leave whole
  • 7 small to medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and coarsely chopped
  • 2 large turnips or 4 to 5 small turnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium spanish onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 leek (the white part only), coarsely chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni made with thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves (Go easy on the rosemary as a little goes a long way. You should have a loose bundle of mainly thyme with about 8 to 10 small to medium stems, 1 to 2 stems of rosemary, and about 2 to 3 bay leaves, depending on the size of your leaves.)
  • 4 cloves or 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cloves if you don’t have the full ones
  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt
  • coarsely ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

1. First, you will prepare the beef stock. Place all of your meat in a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Boil it for around 3-5 minutes. Pour out your water and empty the pot of your meat. You’ll see a brown frothy, even scummy layer built up on the edges of your pot – wash your pot clean of that froth.

2. Put your coarser, fatty meats and bone back into the pot (you can save your sirloin or other lean cut of meat for later) and add just enough water to cover your meat. It will probably fill about half your pot – you don’t want to add too much water as the vegetables you’ll add later will also lose water content and add to your stock. Bring your pot to a boil, then turn it down to a low simmer. If you have a thermal pot, you can put your stock into the thermal pot to simmer in there. You will simmer you stock for around 2 to 3 hours

3. While you wait for your stock to stew, you can prepare your vegetables and bouquet garni. For my carrots, I like leaving about an inch of the green stalks on them and cutting them lengthwise before chopping them into smaller coarse chunks. Everything can be coarsely chopped. Stick your four cloves into the centre of your onion quarters.

4. Add your leek, onion (with the cloves), bouquet garni, and salt into your pot and continue simmering. If you aren’t using whole cloves, you can add your ground cloves in at this point. If you are using your thermal pot, remember to bring your stock back up to a boil before placing it back into the thermal pot.

5. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to serve your pot au feu, add the remaining carrots and turnip to your stock.

6. Take your sirloin and pan sear it on medium-high to high heat in a frying pan, depending on how cooked you like your meat (lower heat if you like it cooked through more as it takes longer to sear). When it’s done, pour the juices from the meat into your stock, and cover your sirloin with a bit of tinfoil and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how thick your cut of meat was (longer for thicker cuts). Cut your sirloin either into strips or cubes. Plate it on a large platter if you want to serve your pot au feu communal style. Plate it into your soup bowls if you aren’t planning on serving it communal style.

7. Remove the chunks of meat from your stock and also cut that meat into strips or cubes. If you’re using brisket, cut it against the grain. Also plate this meat, along with the oxtail and or bone marrow, on the platter. If you don’t want to serve your pot au feu communal style, place your meat back in your stock and skip the next step.

8. Remove and discard your bouqet garni.

9. Remove your vegetables with a slotted spoon and also plate your carrots, turnips, leek, and onions on your platter for serving.

10. Your family or guests can help themselves to whatever meat and vegetables they want in their soup bowls. Ladle in the stock over their meat and vegetables.

Bon appétit!

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