Pot au feu – literally meaning pot on the fire – is a very traditional French dish made from beef, vegetables, a cartilaginous meat such as oxtail, water, herbs and seasoning. We’ve never made pot au feu per se, although it has some similarities to the French lamb dish that we make a few times each Spring.
More recently, our newspaper published a recipe for what its author called ‘Spring pot au feu’. I’m not quite sure how ‘Spring’ earned a gig in the name of the dish, unless it was a nod to the small kipfler potatoes which are in season here. Here are some we grew earlier (harvested and washed just last week).
Anyway, semantics aside, we thought the recipe was sufficiently attractive to give it a go. You can find it here (I have no right to publish it). As we prepared the ingredients and cooked them, we made a few changes to the recipe, without losing its essence. So, for those who are interested enough to work from the original and this post, this is what we did.
- We used a ham hock which weighed about 1.1kg and was quite flavoursome. Some persons might have found the ham flavour in the resulting stock to be too pronounced. So, choose according to your own taste and the flavour of the hock.
- The type of oil is irrelevant; we used olive oil.
- We added 3.5 litres of water; 4 litres would have produced an insipid stock, even allowing for the fact that we simmered the hock and vegetables with the lid a little ajar.
- To remove the carrot and celery as stated in the recipe would be time-wasting and beyond tedious. We left them in to help build the stock’s flavour, then added fresh carrot and celery in the final stages (see step 7, below).
- We poached the pieces of chicken breast after we removed the hock but before we strained the cooking liquid. That saved us some further time and tedium.
- Once Maggie had separated all the ham meat from the hock, we placed the chicken breasts in a large bowl and covered them with the strained stock. After overnight refrigeration, we were able to remove the layer of fat from the surface of the stock and remove the breasts for Maggie to slice.
- After bringing the stock to a simmer, we added sections of small (Dutch) carrots, returned to the boil, added slices of celery, ditto, and finally some shredded silver beet and small kipflers, halved lengthways. (If the potatoes had not been so young and tender, we would have added them at the same time as the carrot.
- We didn’t need to use all of the stock to produce a dish with a pleasing balance of liquid and softish solids; there is 700ml of the stock in our freezer.
- We deleted the parsley and chervil. I honestly think that herbs added at the time of serving would have spoilt this delicate dish and had me reaching for more seasoning.
Here is another shot of our version of this ‘pot au feu’. To give you some idea of the size of the solids, the centre of this bowl is 18cm (7″) wide.
Pot au feu. Potpourri. Pretty plateful. Playful with food. Food in the belly. Pot on the fire.