Update 21: New Year's Goal: Become an "official" Gourmess by August 2010

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. --Julia Child

The first Demonstration for Session 12: Pot au Feu, and that was Pot au Feu (Boiled Beef Dinner).   My book says it is an example of more traditional French home cooking as opposed to haute cuisine, and that the dish provides all the elements of a complete meal: the soup (broth), boiled meat, and vegetables (usually root vegetables). The recipe involves simmering meat and bones slowly to produce a full-flavored broth called a marmite, which if done correctly, should have a warm, amber color.  Adding  oignons brûlées (burnt onion halves) to the dish also helps with the color.

I started with 2 lbs of beef marrow and knuckle bones and 4.5 lbs of beef short ribs, trimmed the excess fat from the short ribs and then tied the pieces of meat together with twine (in the end, the meat is so tender it just slides off the bone, so you don't want it floating around in the pot). I also removed the marrow from one of the larger bones and put it in cold water until I needed it later. The bones and meat went into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes until blanched and then were drained.

I also took an onion (skin on), cut it in half and put the cut halves face down on a cast iron skillet and seared for a few minutes, until the onion was nicely browned (but not black), which gave me the oignons brûlées I mentioned earlier.

Back into the now empty pot went the meat and bones and 2.5 liters of cold water (cold water adds depth to the broth), which was brought to a boil and then lowered to a simmer. I skimmed the foam and fat that came to the top, and then added a mirepoix of carrots, leeks and celery as well as a garlic clove, bouquet garni and the browned onion halves (I pressed a clove into the side of each half). I added salt and pepper, and simmered this for about 3 hours, until the meat was very tender and the marmite was a clear, light amber color.  I skimmed constantly -- there is a lot of grease that comes to the top (short ribs are pretty fatty) and the end result seemed a bit disappointing for all of the effort that went into it, but more on that later.

About 30 minutes before the meat was done, I prepared the garnish. I put carrots that had been tournered cocotte  (about 2 inches long) into cheescloth, tying it into a little bag.  I did the same with leeks and celery -- which was peeled first-- and put the bags into the pot with the meat for about 15 minutes, until tender. While they were cooking, I put some tournered potatoes and turnips (also cut cocotte) into separate saucepans, just covering each with some of the marmite and cooking until tender.  I also took the marrow, sliced it very thin and placed in a pan with some marmite and poached for about 30 seconds until warmed through.

The potatoes and turnips, carrots and leeks went into a shallow soup bowl, followed by the meat, and then the marmite was ladled on top.  The dish was supposed to be served with cornichons, mustard, salt and the second and last Demonstration for this session: Sauce Raifort (Horseradish Sauce). That involved making a velouté (white sauce thickened with a roux) with the marmite, adding heavy cream and freshly grated horseradish, salt and pepper.  It was like a horseradish gravy.

The book recommends making the dish a day ahead, so you can remove even more of the fat from the broth. Probably a good idea, but after spending 4 hours in the kitchen, I didn't really want to wait for the payoff.  The meat was tender and fell right off the bones, the broth tasted pretty much like beef stock, and the root vegetables were tender and nice -- we dunked hunks of crusty bread into our bowls, but weren't sure what to do with the mustard, cornichons and horseradish. I looked up some other recipes online and they didn't really explain either.  I served the meal from the shallow bowls like the book advised, but I think if I ever made this again, I would put everything on a platter and the broth on the side -- that would make more sense for the garnishes, right?

Anyway, it wasn't a bad dish, but it wasn't outstanding either.  It smelled wonderful while it was cooking, and Chris hovered around the kitchen with me.  We snacked on cheese and olives and some champagne while we waited for it to be done, but when it was, it was kind of a let down.  I was expecting something different I guess, and I think Chris is getting tired of these variations on broth, meat, potatoes, carrots and turnips, etc.

Hopefully we can get through Session 13: Soups rather quickly.

That's it for now.

Easy Pot-Au-Feu on Foodista