Making the Pot-au-Feu
A good cook gets great pleasure from his or her nose. Take all your stems and peelings and simmer them in water for 20 minutes, and use that vegetable stock for the soup. Do you use dried shiitake mushrooms? This is where to put those tough stems you remove. Waste not, want not. The cooked peelings go on the compost heap, and come around to feed us again in next years garden. While you may make the same soup as I do, you are connected to it in your own way, so that it is yours, by the choices you make. Alice Waters taught me that.
For the Pot-au-Feu, or Petite Marmite as Escoffier says, they are exactly alike, if you are a classicist, you must have an earthenware stock pot, in which you must boil water in it for 12 hours when new, and only wash with hot water, no soap. Personally, I've always used what I have, and I will get one of these marmites some day before I die, just so I can tell if it makes a difference. The Chinese make a special clay pot, in which you put the water separate from the meat, vegetables and dried mushrooms. When the water boils it escapes through a vent to condense on the contents and cook them. In this way, the steam cooked meats create a very intense clear and concentrated broth by condensation, but this is not the case with a French Marmite. For the Pot-au-Feu, blanch (or not) a nice 3-4 lb piece of beef, brisket, top of rib, or eye round, or even short ribs or breast of veal, and a chicken of about the same size, and lay them in the pot.
Don't worry about making too much. You never will because one cool crisp day it will be just the lunch you need to get through a busy day.
Cover with cold salted water, or the vegetable stock you made from the peelings, and bring just to the boil and simmer. Skim. Add whole peeled carrots, parsnips, hearts of celery, or peeled ribs of celery, tied in a bundle, and peeled white boiling onions, or trimmed leeks. Some people use an oignon cloute (an onion stuck with cloves), but I don't like cloves. Two or three cloves will suffice if you must. Talking about carrots, can you get the Maggio brand carrots from California, with the tops on? Sweet as sugar! If you like turnips, (I don't) you can add them (I won't). If you can lay your hands on marrow bones (called a pipe) of about 3-4 inches, wrap them in washed cheese cloth and add it. It will be done in an hour, as will the small roasting chicken, and any gizzards (much prized in this dish) Fowl or beef take longer. Just test for tenderness and doneness. You may want to cook a small cabbage, shredded, separately in some of the fatty broth, and serve it in a separate dish. Ditto some small boiling potatoes. Some people just don't think it's a meal without potatoes.
Slice some French bread about a quarter inch thick, paint lightly with olive oil or butter, and toast in a slow oven till crisp. Tap the marrow bone, and the marrow will slide out. Slice it and mount the slices on the croutons, which are served on a separate plate. Season the consomme and defat it as well as you can, but it will be somewhat fatty. Slice the beef and cut up the skinned chicken into pieces. Slice the veggies into manageable two inch pieces.
To assemble the dish, put the warmed sliced meats and vegetables in a large soup tureen or portion them into individual soup dishes. Pour the boiling soup over the meat, and serve the cabbage and croutons with it. I enjoy some freshly grated horseradish with boiled meats, and some Dessaux Cornichons, tiny crisp sour pickles from Lyon. Be careful. when you add the vinegar from the pickle jar to the grated horseradish, as I do, or you will send your sinuses to Arizona! Many people enjoy a red wine with this soup, and pour some from the bottle or their own glass into their soup. Be sure to have plenty of hot crusty bread, fresh from the oven. It is a dish fit for a king. In fact, with the meats and vegetables sliced julienne to fit in a soup spoon, and served in a more formal setting, it appears on the menu as Petite Marmite Henri IV. Bon Appetit!
© 1997, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified July 2007