Home > Cooking, Eating, Maundering, Prep > Pot-au-feu, aka Giant Pot of Glistening Meat

Pot-au-feu, aka Giant Pot of Glistening Meat

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

In your cookbook, you call Pot-au-Feu “soul food for socialists”. I still don’t know what the fuck that means. But I can say it proved to me that when French people use common or cheap cuts of meat to create a tender, delicious dish – American people will end up spending a lot of money to create a tender, delicious dish. What’s cheap in the countryside of France (or at Les Halles in Paris) is devilishly expensive in Los Angeles, if it’s even available. So for Pot-au-Feu, I had to make some substitutions, and they were generally more expensive than the cheap cuts I couldn’t find. But the end result? Well, here it is:

Glistening Pile of Meat

I know that the technical translation of “Pot-au-feu” is “pot on the fire” – but it really ought to be glistening pot full of meat.   It was a really nice afternoon in L.A. when we sat down to eat, which was a shame, because this is clearly a meal for a blustery day. The meat was tender but still kept its shape, the vegetables were flavorful with a great texture – and above all, the broth was a thing of beauty. See, Chef Bourdain, I noticed that you were always going on about having a spoonful of demi-glace to jack up the flavor of anything with broth. And, noticed I, this dish clearly has a broth – but you make no mention of the demi-glace. But one of the keys to passing the Turing test is being able to synthesize new information from unconnected data points.  So I took some of that demi-glace that I made back on stock day. The end result was a delicate, beautiful, balanced broth. I’m sorry for the alliteration. But it was really gorgeous – it had deep flavor but a beautiful light color. It didn’t have much fat – probably because I had to use pricier cuts of meat, and its texture was lively and light. Really spectacular, and I made sure to save the extra for future stock days.

But this is a hearty meal! It wants a cold, wet day, when you’re most in need of something savory and warm, that fills in all the cracks with something delicious. Even so, just as you say in your book – it’s a great centerpiece to a casual dinner party. And that’s just what we had – a plethora of good wine, great meat and snappy patter. And did I mention the enormous pile of glistening meat? Your recipe says it feeds six, but we fed seven right up to their gills and still had leftovers.

You call for “chicken steak” or brisket, but I couldn’t find the former, and the latter only exists in enormous Texas-sized quantities. So I used flank steak instead, which is like brisket in its texture, but less fatty and marbled. In retrospect, flatiron steak might have been closer. Anyway, I had the oxtails, the short ribs no problem – but your recipe says “one veal shank, on the bone.” Does that mean an entire veal leg? Really? I got two shank slices still on the bone, and that was $22.00 – I can’t imagine how much a whole veal leg would cost. Putting a cute little calf through that much bothering is expensive!

Anyway, I put that lovely pile of dead animal in a giant pot.

Meat! In a pot!

I covered it in cold water, and brought that to a boil. While it was heating up, I got the rest of my meez in place – as well as having a cocktail I invented called a “caramel apple kick-in-the-head”.

A cocktail is an important part of any good meez.

Once that was squared away, and the water had boiled, I put the meat in a bowl and cleaned out the pot. Then back in went the meat, as well as all the veggies except the potatoes and cabbage. You know, celery root (celeriac) isn’t used much in American cuisine, and it’s a real shame. It has such a nice flavor, kind of a cross between celery and a potato, maybe – and it’s so fibrous and chewy. It’s really a treat and I confess, I’ve never had it before. I also threw in some pink peppercorns, which I know is not strictly in accordance with your method – but it is in some other traditional recipes out on the net, and you say to season with salt and pepper to taste, so I figured it was ok.This is also wear I blopped in a tablespoon of demi-glace, which I do believe had the desired effect.

It's like high falutin' corned beef and cabbage, basically.

Other than that, there wasn’t much too it. Let it simmer for a coupla-few hours and hang out with your friends. Just before you’re ready to sit down, throw in the potatoes and cabbage so they’re cooked but not overcooked. Then sieve out the juice but keep it – because, as mentioned above, it’s just gorgeous. I put it on a platter in your suggested disheveled manner. Served the broth in a bowl with a ladle and let everyone help themselves.

Let me tell you, the marrow on a nicely toasted bit of baguette with butter was a magical experience. Some red wine, some pickles, fleur de mer and dijon mustard, and you’ve got a great stew, basically. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, and given that it was pretty easy to make, I’d call this one a hit, definitely something I’d make again. Maybe I’d scrounge around for cheaper ingredients, but since the tradition is literally just throwing whatever you’ve got in a pot that’s on the cooking fire, I feel like that’s entirely in keeping with the spirit of pot-au-feu, even if it’s not quite up to scratch for Les Halles.

Basically Chef, what we had was a great casual meal. You’d have liked it, especially the four bottles of wine we knocked back. This is what good cooking is all about, right? Sharing something from your heart with people you love. So thanks for the inspiration, and I’m pretty sure everyone else appreciated it too.

Full of Glistening Meat;


Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering, Prep
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