One of the easiest recipes you could ever make. Really nutritious, too.
Pot-au-feu was named after the pot in which it was cooked, over a fire. It could be made with a wide variety of vegetables and was a stew for peasants. People who would grab a cabbage which had fallen from a cart or left over from a market. Whatever they could find and when they nabbed a rabbit, or a tough old pheasant, these could eke out the stew.
In 1600, King Henry IV of France declared that no peasant should be so poor, that they couldn’t have a chicken in their pot, on Sundays.
Traditional French pot au feu, evolved to include stewing beef, bones with marrow such as oxtail. Vegetables used are turnips, carrots, parsnips, celery, leeks and white cabbage. If onions are used, they are sometimes caramelised in a skillet, first.. The broth (flavoured with nutmeg) is served with toast, on which the bone marrow is spread. Then the meat and vegetables are served as a main course. They may be accompanied by coarse salt, Dijon mustard, horseradish sauce, and pickled gherkins. All of these these are obviously fairly modern additions.
The Pot au feu broth can be used as a base for soup, with added pasta, rice or bread, or simply used to cook pasta.
The version that we were introduced to, came from Sonia Allison’s The Dairy Book of Home Cookery. First published in 1968, during the Seventies, cooks bought the book from their milkmen, in their thousands. Very few ever turn up in boot fairs and charity shops, because it’s a classic cook book with everything from soup, scones and roast beef, to ‘Peasant Girl with a Veil’ (a Danish pudding) and vol au vents. We were lucky enough to have been given two treasured copies by our mothers.
Sonia Allison’s Pot au feu was made with stock, tinned tomatoes, carrots, white cabbage, onions, leeks, celery, cauliflower, and salt and pepper. It was then served with a bowl of grated Cheddar and a bowl of parsley, so that people could chuck these on top of the piping hot stew, in order that the cheese melts.
We tweak this, to specify vegetable stock, and add celeriac, fennel, broccoli , spring onions, shallots, baby leeks, or kohl rabi and rainbow carrots. The only vegetables which shouldn’t be added, are Brussels sprouts and potatoes. Stewed Brussels sprouts are disgusting and potatoes put too much starch into the broth, making it cloudy and altering the taste, for the worst.
If you have a bay leaf (fresh or dried) you could add this and if you don’t, a bouquet garni could be used, if you like them.
For a more tomatoey flavour, add one tiny tin of tomato paste or a good squirt of tomato paste, but never ever, tomato ketchup.
If adding cheese at the end, it’s advisable not to put salt on the table, just black or white pepper.
Parsley is the standard herb for sprinkling, but you could use other chopped herbs like fresh dill, coriander or chives.
Pot au feu is a good way of using up veg and herbs that have been hanging around for a while. You don’t need to use all of these vegetables, every time you make it.
If you want to speed up cooking, try chopping the veg into similar size pieces, and adding the hardest into the stock first and then the rest. The usual way is just to chuck the veg and liquid in in one go, however.
If you only have whole tinned tomatoes just chop them up a bit in the tin before adding. You’ll want around 300 ml or 0.5 pint of stock (cube or stock pot is fine) and one can of tomatoes to feed a family. Enough liquid so that it doesn’t stick in the saucepan or stock pot and not enough to drown the veg, because they will release liquid as they cook.
As long as there’s sufficient liquid, but no lake, the veg can gently simmer away for 40- 60 mins. It could probably be made in a slow cooker or instant pot.
Leftovers are likely, because it’s extremely filling. Best option is a stick blender then pour into a container to freeze or refrigerate as a base for soup, which could be livened up with curry powder.