THE MENU Soup from the pot-au-feu, with sliced marrow and tiny cooked pasta Pot-au-feu, boiled brisket, chicken and stuffing, plus leeks, parsnips, carrots, turnips and potatoes Green sauce Horseradish sauce Cornichons and mustards in variety Chocolate potsde creme
THIS IS THE food to place before guests in January, a meal that is soothing, uncomplicated, wholesome and deeply satisfying -- just as it should be after the holiday assault on the digestive system.
It consists of a pot-au-feu, a boiled dinner that makes a whole meal from one pot. The first course is a clean-tasting soup embellished with sliced beef marrow and tiny cooked pasta. Next is mildly garlicky boiled beef and chicken, a poule au pot, which contribute body to the soup. Surrounding the meats are slices of the chicken's aromatic stuffing and solid, unpretentious winter root vegetables, lightly cooked and deliciously permeated with the stock in which they have simmered. The mercifully bland meats are given a little character with two sauces: a green sauce whose piquancy is smoothed with the addition of a boiled potato, and a delicate horseradish sauce. To help the meats further along are cornichons, those lovely little sour French gherkins found in specialty food stores, and mustard, in variety if desired. Rather than fruit for dessert, which would introduce an unwanted acidity, there are chocolate pots de creme, whipped up in one minute flat in a blender and with a texture and flavor that suggest hours of fussing over a hot stove. The pots de creme are made from a recipe of undetermined origin that swept the country a couple of decades ago. It deserves to be resurrected.
The pot-au-feu recipe is long-winded, but don't be discouraged: after all, it produces a first course, a main dish and the accompanying vegetables. Moreover, it is simplicity itself to prepare and demands little attention during its cooking. The only special equipment needed is a large stockpot, specifically 16 quarts or more in capacity.
The pot-au-feu is based on a brown stock that is made a day or two in advance, or even weeks earlier if it is stored in the freezer. (It is possible, although less desirable in terms both of quality and economy, to substitute canned chicken broth and beef bouillon in equal quantities for the stock.) The stock gains much of its strength from marrow bones, which also yield the marrow that garnishes the first-course soup. Some cooks tie the browned marrow bones in cheesecloth when they go into the stockpot to keep the marrow from slipping out. I do not bother with this step since in my experience most of the marrow stays in the bones, where it belongs, even after long cooking. Any truant pieces are scooped out when the stock is strained through cheese-cloth.
Marrow bones can frequently be found in supermarket meat counters. I buy them when I find them and freeze them until they are needed. The brown stock can also be put to other purposes, in which case a 3-pound piece of boiling beef would be browned with the bones and cooked in the stock. The finished stock can then be frozen, ready for use to great advantage in other recipes calling for beef bouillon or stock and far superior to the canned counterpart.
My own preference in tiny soup pasta is for orzo, which look like grains of rice and unexpectedly and delightfully are not. The pasta can be cooked several hours in advance and set aside.
Almost any boneless beef can be used for pot-au-feu, but the boiling cuts are more satisfactory since they dry out less and hold together more. Bottom round, chuck and brisket are all excellent; I prefer brisket for its texture and lack of gristle. The garlic slivers add a delicate flavor to the beef and, surprisingly, do not overpower it.
I sneak a chicken into my pot-au-feu for the color and texture it adds. My recipe is for a traditional poule au pot, with its parsley-flecked, allspice-perfumed stuffing. The chicken is cooked whole and trussed well. (The directions for trussing a bird in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Volume I, are clear and easy to follow.) The chicken goes into the pot an hour and a half after the meat has been cooking and is carved and placed on the same platter with the meat. The stuffing has enough density so that it can be plucked out whole, but it helps to cut an opening in the carcass with a pair of kitchen shears. The serving platter of meats should be basted liberally with the soup in which they have been cooked. It is amazing how quickly boiled meats can become dry and stringy.
I split the leeks lengthwise down the middle in order to be able to wash out all the sand that hides in this lovely vegetable. The halves are then put together and tied in a bundle with soft kitchen twine. This keeps them intact and makes it easier to fish them out of the soup. The other vegetables are cooked in the soup, with the exception of the potatoes, which leave their starchiness behind in a separate pot of water.
Since the oven is not needed for this meal, I use mine at a very low setting to warm the soup plates, dinner plates and serving platters. The hotter this meal, the better it is.
This is no reason why a pot-au-feu could not be cooked a day in advance, cooled, refrigerated and reheated before serving, except that few refrigerators are large enough to hold a big stockpot and its contents.
While green sauce is more usual with bollito misto, the Italian version of pot-au-feu, it is elegant and most appropriate with its French counterpart and makes a wonderful foil for the meats. The horseradish sauce is an excellent version of a familiar recipe. Aioli, the heady provencal garlic mayonnaise, would also be good with the meats. Cornichons and mustards are a given with pot-au-feu. So is a dish of coarse salt, which I have eliminated since nobody seems to want to dip into it.
The pots de creme can be made a day in advance but should be covered with plastic wrap unless little pots de creme pots are used, in which case their lids will keep the dessert from forming a skin on top. Fourounce containers are ample, since this dessert is particularly creamy and flavorful. The only problem with this recipe is that is it so easy to make and so good that one tends to make it too often. With this caveat, I know of no other recipe that gives so much for so little investment in ingredients or time. The texture of the pots de creme is better when made in a blender as opposed to the food processor. Moreover, it is difficult to pour the liquid from the processor bowl; the mixture really should be decanted first to a pitcher and then distributed among the serving containers. An extra step and an extra something to wash. POT-AU-FEU (8 servings)
For the basic brown stock (makes about 4 quarts): 4 pounds beef marrow bones 3 pounds veal or beef neck or shin bones, with some meat attached 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks 3 large onions, quartered 8 parsley springs 1 large bay leaf 1 teaspoon thyme 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper 1 tablespoon salt 7 to 8 quarts cold water, or enough to cover the bones and vegetables
For the beef: 4-pound piece beef brisket 2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into slivers
For the chicken: 4-pound whole chicken, neck and wing tips reserved 2 cups fresh bread crumbs, made in food processor or blender 1/2 cup milk 1/4 cup minced parsley Heart, liver and gizzard of the chicken, trimmed and minced 1 egg, beaten 1 large clove garlic, crushed 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice Salt and pepper to taste
For the final pot au feu: 1 recipe basic brown stock, cold and degreased 3 large onions, peeled and left whole 1 whole clove, stuck into one of the onions 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks 2 stalks celery, trimmed and cut into 3-inch chunks Neck and wing tips of the chicken Prepared beef Canned chicken broth and beef bouillon, in equal quantities, if needed to cover the meat and later the chicken Salt to taste Stuffed chicken Vegetable garnish
For the vegetable garnish: 8 medium-thin leeks, halved lengthwise, washed of all sand and tied with string into a bundle 4 large parsnips, peeled, trimmed and halved lengthwise 16 long, thin carrots, peeled and trimmed 8 small turnips, peeled and trimmed 8 medium potatoes, peeled
For the soup garnish: 1 cup tubettini, orzo or any tiny soup pasta, cooked al dente in boiling salted water, drained and set aside Reserved marrow from the bones in the basic stock, sliced
Make the basic stock a day or two in advance. Fit the bones not too tightly into one or two roasting pans and roast in a 450-degree oven for half an hour. Add the carrots and onions to the bones and roast for an additional half-hour or more, until the bones and vegetables are well browned. Turn the bones once during the browning. Remove the bones and vegetables to a large stockpot, about 16-quart capacity or more, and discard the fat from the roasting pan. Add about an inch or two of cold water to the roasting pan, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes or so, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Set aside.
Place the parsley, bay leaf, thyme and cracked pepper on a piece of cheesecloth and tie into a spicebag. Add this and the salt to the pot along with cold water to cover the bones and vegetables. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, uncovered, and skim off the scum as it arises with a large kitchen spoon.
When no more scum forms (after about half an hour of skimming), add the contents of the roasting pan to the stockpot, set the lid slightly askew on the pot and cook over medium-low heat for six hours. When the stock is done, remove the bones and push out the marrow into a bowl. Discard the bones, the vegetables and the spice bag and refrigerate the marrow, which will be used as a garnish for the soup.
Rinse a piece of cheesecloth several layers thick in cold water, wring it out and line a strainer with it. Place the strainer over a large bowl and ladle the basic stock through the cheesecloth. Transfer the strainer to a second bowl when the first is filled. When the cheesecloth becomes clogged, rinse it out, replace it in the strainer and continue. When all the stock has been strained, wash out the cheesecloth and save it for the final straining of the soup. Allow the stock to cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove the fat, which will have congealed over the surface of the stock, before using.
The beef can be prepared for cooking several hours in advance. Pat the meat dry, make random gashes in it with a long, thin knife and insert the garlic slivers into the gashes. Refrigerate until needed.
The chicken can be cleaned and the stuffing made in advance, but the chicken should not be stuffed until just before it is to go into the pot. Remove the wing tips and reserve. Also reserve the neck. Pull out the lungs and other organs clinging to the cavity, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. To make the stuffing, combine the bread crumbs and milk in a bowl and stir until the milk is absorbed. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. When the chicken is stuffed, sew up the cavity and truss the bird.
Start to cook the final pot-au-feu 5 1/2 hours before it is to be served. Place the cold, degreased basic stock into the stockpot and add the onions, clove, carrots, celery, the neck and wing tips of the chicken. Add the prepared beef. If necessary, add canned chicken broth and beef bouillon in equal quantities to cover the meat. Place the stockpot over medium heat, uncovered, and bring to a simmer, skimming as the stock heats. It will take about 45 minutes for the pot to come to the boil. Taste the soup and add salt if needed. It is better to under-salt and adjust to taste later. Lower heat, cover the pot with the lid slightly askew and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, stuff and truss the chicken.
After 1 1/2 hours, add the chicken to the stockpot along with additional chicken broth and beef bouillon if needed to cover. Return the soup to the boil, skimming if necessary, lower heat, cover the pot with the lid slightly askew and cook for 2 more hours.
Remove the meat and the chicken temporarily to a dish and test the meat.If it is tender, do not return it to the stockpot but cover it with foil until the vegetable garnish is cooked. Fit a strainer with the cheesecloth rinsed in cold water and wrung out and pass the soup through the strainer into another pot. Discard the vegetables and chicken wing tips and neck and wash out the stockpot. Return the soup to the clean stockpot along with the meat, if it needs more cooking, and the chicken. Return the soup to the simmer. At the same time, bring a separate pot of water to boil for the potatoes.
Add the leeks, parsnips, carrots and turnips to the stockpot, bring the soup to the simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart. Return the meat, if it has not continued to cook, with the vegetables, to the stockpot. Taste the soup for salt and make necessary adjustments. Cover the stockpot. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes separately, drain and turn them into a cloth dish towel to dry and keep warm.
To serve the soup as a first course, divide the cooked tiny pasta and slices of marrow among eight warm soup plates and ladle soup into each plate. There will be enough soup left in the stockpot to keep the meats and vegetables moist and warm.
To serve the main course, slice the meat thinly against the grain and arrange it on a large warm serving platter. Carve the chicken into at least eight pieces and arrange on the platter. Cut through the carved chicken carcass, remove the stuffing in one piece, slice and add to the platter. Discard the string from the leeks. If there is room, arrange the vegetables in bundles on the platter. Otherwise, place them on a separate warm serving dish. Ladle some of the soup over the meats and vegetables. Pass the green sauce, the horseradish sauce, a dish of cornichons, various mustards and french bread.
The leftover soup will keep in the refrigerator for about four days.It can be frozen and used as a rich brown stock or for soup. GREEN SAUCE (Makes about 1 1/4 coups) 1 medium potato, peeled, boiled and cooled 5 tablespoons minced parsley 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed under cold water, dried on paper towels and chopped 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed under cold water in a sieve and dried on paper towels 1 cornichon (small, sour French pickle), minced 1 garlic clove, mashed 1/2 cup olive oil 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Dice the potato and combine it in a bowl with the parsley, anchovies, capers, cornichon, garlic and oil. Beat with an electric mixer for 5 minutes. The potato will become mashed and incorporated into the sauce. Then beat in the vinegar. Turn into a sauceboat and refrigerate until needed. HORSERADISH SAUCE (Makes about 2 cups) 4-ounce bottle prepared horseradish 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 2 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs 1/4 teaspoon confectioners' sugar 6 drops worcestershire sauce Salt and pepper to taste 3/4 cup heavy cream
Spoon the bottled horseradish into a fine strainer and press out as much vinegar as possible.Discard the vinegar. Combine the horseradish in a bowl with the mustard, bread crumbs, sugar, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Whip the cream and combine it with the horseradish mixture. Turn into a sauceboat, cover tightly with plastic wrap so the strength of the horseradish is not dissipated and refrigerate until needed. CHOCOLATE POTS DE CREME (8 to 10 servings) 2 cups milk 2 eggs 2 tablespoons sugar 4 teaspoons cognac, rum or Grand Marnier 2 teaspoons vanilla Pinch of salt 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet (real) chocolate bits
Heat the milk just to the boiling point. Place all other ingredients in order listed in blender. Add the hot milk and blend at low speed for 1 minute. Pour into 4-ounce or 6-ounce serving containers -- souffle molds, custard cups or pots de creme pots -- and refrigerate.