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16 November 2006


Next week is Thanksgiving in America and quite a lot of the food blogs have been writing about it. These posts got me thinking about holidays in general and the warm fuzzy feeling you get from all the food, family and festivities. That in turn got me thinking about what I could write about as a Brit which in turn reminded me that shit, I was more than a couple of months late in writing up my pot-au-feu recipe that I cooked for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Pot-au-feu is not a traditional Ashkenazi dish. However, slow cooked meat is an important element of traditional Ashkenazi cooking. Cholent is the most widely known example. It is a stew, some argue is a cousin of cassoulet, which is eaten in Ashkenazi homes on Shabbat. It is a perfect meal because it does not contravene any of the laws about what can and cannot be done during the Sabbath. It is prepared on the Friday, before Shabbat starts, stuck in the oven for twenty odd hours until it is needed for lunch on Saturday and in theory, comes out of the oven moist, succulent and beautifully cooked.

The rules for cooking on Rosh Hashanah are somewhat laxer. Nonetheless, I wanted to cook something that was going to be easy. We had a lot of entertaining over the two days of Rosh Hashanah, largely because my in-laws were staying, and on the second day my whole family were coming over. We were cooking for fifteen people. Silverbrowess was tearing her hair out at the prospect. In pursuit of a peaceful life, I promised her I would do all the cooking and cleaning and therefore would make things as easy as possible. In return, this meant I could run rampant in the kitchen. I figured pot-au-feu was the way forward. It allowed me to have all the fun in the kitchen with the preparation, but in the end make it look oh so easy. The plan worked a dream.

Another reason for the pot-au-feu was that I really wanted to get my teeth into my copy of French Provincial Cooking (p156) by Elizabeth David. I also used Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Meat as a guide as well (p284). I used both because that is what Hugh recommends. He provides a more straightforward recipe than Elizabeth, he also misses out the history and semantics that she is famed for. The recipe and process below are my interpretations of Elizabeth's and Hugh's, although reading back through theirs, mine owes more to her than it does to him.

  • 3kg brisket, unpickled
  • 2kg veal on the bone
  • 2kg ox tongue, unpickled
  • 8 pieces marrow bone approx 5cms thick
  • 6 chicken giblets
  • 5 leeks, trimmed
  • 5 carrots, scrubbed
  • 6 onions
  • 1 small turnip, peeled
  • 1 parsnip, peeled
  • 2 stalks of celery w/leaves
  • 2 large tomatoes, halved
  • bouquet garni (2 bay leaves (use 1 if dried) | 2/3 springs fresh parsley | 2/3 sprigs thyme, wrapped in muslin or tied together)
  • optional - or at least I didn't include: 4-6 pea pods dried in the oven. According to ED, they're used for colour
  • optional - you can serve the marrow on toast, with a bit of flat leaf parsley and pinch of good salt. If you want to, buy a baguette or similar.

To serve

  • capers
  • cornichons
  • horseradish
  • mustard
  • salad

First off, if you are cooking for 15 and using the proportions above, you will need a bloody big pot to put it all in. I used a 28cm round Le Creuset casserole, which I was surprised held it all in, but with some pushing and shoving did the trick.

Tie the brisket. I used Leith's Techniques Bible as guide, but frankly all you want to do is tie up the meat into a neat parcel.

Wrap and tie the marrow bones in muslin. This will stop the all important marrow from falling out into the stew.

Tie four leeks in a bundle with one stalk of celery.

Grill the tomatoes, get a decent char on the cut-side.

Wash three onions - don't peel, the skin adds colour.

Put the beef, veal, tongue and giblets into the pot and cover with cold water. Heat gently and skim religiously. After reading Thomas Keller I have had it drummed into me just how important this is when making stocks, soups or broths. Remember, Elizabeth David argues pot-au-feu is essentially two dishes, bouillon (the broth) and bouilli (the meat). She suggests they should be used at different times and for different meals. You want your broth as crystal clear and consomme like as possible.

Put in the vegetables prepared above, add a good portion of salt, approx 1 tbp and the bouquet garni.

Leave to simmer gently for five and a half hours. By gently, I mean only a light bubbling, not a raging boil. You might need to buy a heat diffuser to get sufficient control over your hob.

Put the tied marrow bones parcel into the pot for the last thirty minutes to 1 hour of cooking.

At the end of the cooking time, turn off the heat and lift out all solids. Put the beef into a covered dish and keep warm. Skim the broth again - you should have been skimming anyway, but there's always more skimming to do. You should think about passing the broth through one or two fine sieves, you could even pass it through muslin, if you want to be really anal (it is the sort of thing I do.)

Extract the marrow meat, put onto toast and serve with parsley and salt.

Elizabeth David suggests serving the broth with rice or pasta. A typical Ashkenazi interpretation would be to add kreplach. If you are going to do that, I would suggest the kreplach stuffing is liver or a well flavoured mince (maybe with a hint of paprika) to work through the complex flavours of the meaty broth. You would end up with a dish very similar to tortellini in brodo - one of the by-products of bollito misto, Italy's boiled meat dish. For the sake of my good health, I dare not compare bollito misto and pot-au-feu too closely, but there are undeniable similarities. If you are interested in bollito misto, I find Claudia Roden's book very good, or read Divina Cucina's recipe.

Back to pot-au-feu, serve the meat with cornichons, horseradish, capers, mustard and a green salad with a decent (read: homemade) vinaigrette.

Cook the remaining vegetables separately and serve with the pot-au-feu.

Personally, I found the leftovers just as tasty as the main meat dish.


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