Originally part of the typical cuisine of ordinary French people, this popular dish (literally translated as “pot on the fire”) has evolved into dozens of iterations, with each cook giving it their own signature spin. It was often made with tough but flavorful pieces of beef, like the shin, brisket or shank, but other items such as stuffed chicken, turkey leg, mutton or veal knuckles, sausage or oxtails can also be added to the pot to add elegance and boost the taste. For this version, I have tried to stick as closely to Blot’s 19th century version as possible, but feel free to make it your own by adding any of the above items.
Here’s a brief description of the methodology "Professor" Blot taught his cooking class ...
He used a fancy piece of round steak, removing the fat and bone, explaining to his students that the meat must be simmered (never boiled) in cold water for five hours in order to create the soup’s required flavor and texture. “If the meat was put into hot water, the pores would immediately close up and harden the flesh, preventing its juices from emitting their nutritious qualities,” he clarified. After about two hours of simmering, slices of carrot, turnip, celery, onions, cloves, salt and pepper were placed in a thin muslin bag and gently lowered to the pot. Blot called this broth the “alphabet” of the culinary art; the “foundation upon which good cooking is based.” In French cooking, this rich stock is often used as a base for other soups or stews, or to flavor other dishes, such as Fricandeau of Veal.
- 6 pounds of fresh beef (ribs, knuckle or loin)
- 2 white onions
- 2 cloves
- 1 small parsnip
- 2 turnips
- 5 or 6 celery stalks
- 2 leeks
- 2 sprigs fresh parsley
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 2 tsp coarse salt
- 1 bay leaf
- Season the beef with salt and pepper and place in a large pot or Dutch oven with five quarts of cold water. Simmer for about two hours, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface.
- Stick a clove into each of the two peeled white onions and place in a cheesecloth bag, along with slices of parsnip, carrot, turnips, celery, leeks parsley, thyme, garlic, peppercorns, salt and bay leaf. Add to the pot and simmer for two to three hours.
- Gently remove the meat and vegetables and place in a large bowl or platter. Remove cloves from onions and chop into thick slices. Discard herb sprigs, bay leaf, garlic and peppercorns. Cut the meat into two-inch pieces and place in a large soup dish, along with the vegetables. Cover with foil.
- Strain the broth, skim off the fat on the soup’s surface, and cook at medium high until boiling. Take off the heat and pour some broth in the soup dish. Top with croutons made from toasted French bread and serve. Other optional toppings include Dijon mustard, horseradish, coarse salt and/or cornichons. The remaining broth can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days or frozen for future use.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Adapted from What to Eat and How to Cook It (1863) by Pierre Blot
“The Purposeful Cook; Everyday Dish That's A Classic.” By Jacques Pepin, New York Times, January 17, 1990; “Pot-Au-Feu Like a Frenchman,” by Foodbeest, April 25, 2013.