But the original Pot au feu (means Pot on the fire) is a traditional French beef stew. According to many famous French chefs, pot-au-feu is “the quintessence of French family cuisine, and it is the most celebrated dish in France. It honors the tables of the rich and poor alike”.
It is difficult to know when the name pot-au-feu first appeared and when its meaning changed to describe the dish instead of the pot in which it is cooked. While pot was used to describe the rounded pot to cook on the fire at least since the 11th century (even in English), there seems to be no written trace of pot-au-feu until 1673.
In 1600, King Henry IV of France (1553-1610) declared, “I want no peasant in my kingdom to be so poor that he cannot have a “poule au pot” on Sundays.” Poule au pot literally means “chicken in the pot” and the so-called traditional recipe resembles the one of “pot-au-feu”. However, peasants’ food was mainly based on bread, root vegetables, in-season vegetables and soup. They rarely ate meat except salted pork, hog-grease, bacon, or other meat for religious celebrations (or when they dared illegally hunting on their Lord’s land). For people in town, it was easier to buy inexpensive pieces of meat, which needed long cooking.
Cooking cartilaginous meat in the stew will result in gelatin being dissolved into the broth. If the stew is allowed to cool, the broth may turn into a jelly, resulting in an interesting texture. Allowing the stew to cool also allows the removal of excess fat, which floats on the surface and solidifies. In order to give the broth a slightly smoked taste and its typical brown color, onions are cut in half then charred in a frying pan protected by aluminum foil until the onion’s surface is completely black. The cloves are driven into the onions so that both onions and cloves can be removed easily before serving.
Traditionally, the broth is served first with a bit of nutmeg and the marrow (if a marrowbone was used) spread on toasted bread. Oh my God it is so good with a pinch of salt! Heaven on Earth! Then the meat and the vegetables are served with coarse salt and strong mustard, horseradish sauce, and sometimes also with gherkin pickled in vinegar.
Ingredients: 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise, 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, 2 fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried), 2 pound beef brisket, 3 4″ pieces bone-in beef short ribs
Bouquet garni, meats, and vegetables: 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise, 10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, 10 sprigs thyme, 3 fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried), 3whole cloves, 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, 3 2″-3″ long marrow bones, 2 pounds oxtails, 2 pounds beef bones, 1 pound veal bones, 1 pound veal breast, 5 large carrots (about 1 pound), peeled (2 chopped, 3 cut into 2″ pieces), 2 celery stalks, chopped, 1 onion, quartered, 1 1-pound piece garlic sausage, 2 rutabagas (about 1 pound), peeled, cut into wedges, 1 small head of savoy cabbage (about 1 pound), halved, 1 pound baby potatoes
Sauces and garnishes:1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives, 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon, 2 garlic cloves, minced, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 cup crème fraîche, 2 tablespoons prepared white horseradish, drained, whole grain mustard, Dijon mustard, toasted sliced country bread
- For brine:
- Bring first 5 ingredients and 8 cups water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat; let cool to room temperature. Place brisket and short ribs in a large baking dish. Pour brine over to cover completely. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove meat; rinse and set aside.
- For bouquet garni, meats, and vegetables:
- Place first 6 ingredients in center of a triple layer of cheesecloth. Gather up edges; tie with kitchen twine to form a bundle for bouquet garni. Wrap marrow bones in cheesecloth; tie into a bundle with twine. If desired, tie oxtails with twine around circumference to keep meat from falling off bones.
- Place brisket, short ribs, bouquet garni, marrow bones, oxtails, beef bones, veal bones, veal breast, 2 chopped carrots, celery, and onion in a very large heavy pot. Add water to cover meat (about 7 quarts). Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum and fat that rise to the surface. Reduce heat and simmer, skimming occasionally, until short ribs are tender, 2-2 1/2 hours.
- Transfer short ribs to a 13x9x2″ baking dish; add 4 cups broth from pot and tent with foil to keep meat warm and moist. Add sausage to pot; continue simmering until sausage is cooked through and remaining meats are tender, about 30 minutes longer. Transfer sausage, brisket, oxtails, and marrow bones to dish with short ribs.
- Place a large strainer over another large pot; strain broth, discarding remaining meats, bones, and other solids in strainer. (You should have about 10 cups broth.) Return broth to a boil; add rutabagas, cabbage, potatoes, and 2″ pieces of carrots. Simmer until vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes.
- For sauces and garnishes:
- Mix first 5 ingredients in a small bowl to make salsa. Season with salt and pepper; set aside. Stir crème fraîche and horseradish in another small bowl; season with salt.
- Transfer vegetables to a platter. Thinly slice brisket against the grain; cut sausage into 2″ pieces. Return meats to baking dish.
- Season broth in pot to taste with salt and pepper; divide among bowls. (Reserve broth from meats for another use.) Serve meats and vegetables with salsa, horseradish crème fraîche, and both mustards in small bowls alongside. Serve with toasted country bread.