Bouilli or pot au feu québécois is a traditional beef stew from Québec, Canada inspired by the famous dish ‘pot au feu’ from France. A simple stew made of root vegetables, beef and pork belly cooked slowly until tender.
As a kid, I used to visit my grandparents once or twice a year. They were living in a small and remote village far away in the forest called Lac-des-Aigles (Eagles lake). We would always arrive in the late afternoon and the cast iron pot would already be doing its magic on the stove for hours… leaving behind this fantastic homey, comforting stew smell. In the pot was a succulent and traditional meat stew called Bouilli in Quebec.
A winter dish to warm up the bones
This recipe is a flashback to those nice visits to my grandparent’s place. My grandma would make this recipe starting from when the root veggies would be fully grown in September and up throughout the winter. As one knows, Quebec, my homeland, has inherited a lot from its cousins from France, amongst other things the language, justice system and gastronomy. However everything took a slightly different direction, and it’s also the case with Pot au Feu.
The French Pot au feu vs. The French Canadian Bouilli
A popular peasant dish in both France and Quebec, this dish is considered by many the incontestable comfort food. However, the French version often contains leeks while the French Canadian version uses onions and added green or yellow beans. Another difference is the type of meat, in Canada, we usually add a piece of salted pork belly (Lard salé) which is a common thing in any Canadian stews although in France they solely use beef pieces and extra bone marrows.
The recipe is terribly simple to do, all you need is a good old dutch oven, some patience and keeping an eye on the amount of liquid in the pot. It’s basically a slow and long cooking stew with lots of veggies like rutabagas (turnips), carrots, potatoes, green or yellow beans, onions, cabbage and pieces of lower quality beef cuts like chuck roast, Bottom Sirloin Flap, oxtail, brisket and a piece of salted pork belly.
To prevent the stew from boiling, we cover the pot with the lid and leave always a tiny crack to let the extra heat escape. This way you’ll get a perfect simmer and make the meat tender and steam the veggies to perfection without making the broth blurry in the end.
Bouilli or Pot au feu is a “kind of” stew although without as much liquid… containing about half the liquid of a normal stew. The goal is to always check for the meat to be covered by water although the veggies are going to stay on top of the liquid. The secret here is to simmer very gently and for a long without moving the stew around. This way you’ll collect all the residual water from the “steamed” veggies and all that succulent juice from the pieces of meat in the juice.
The end result is a tender and dreamy merge of all the ingredients with just a touch of the tasty broth to cover the bottom of the plates. Back in the day, Pot au feu used to be served in 2 different dishes; first the broth or soup and afterwards the meat and veggies as main.
To serve with…
The only personal touch of mine in this version of pot au feu is the garlic clove, since I’ve been living abroad in Spain… I have this habit of adding garlic everywhere. In my family, we like to serve this dish with a nice fresh buttered white loaf slice of bread to accompany it and some extra pickles. We also make bundles with the beans to make them easier to pick up in the end, plus it also gives an extra aesthetic side to the dish.
So let’s start and make good use of that iron cast!
Bouilli or pot au feu québécois
- 1 big dutch oven
- 1 kilo chuck roast, bottom sirloin flap, oxtail or brisket
- 300 g salted pork (pancetta)
- 10 carrots
- 400 g green beans (pack of 10 in string)
- 2 rutabaga or turnip
- 3 onions
- 1/2 white cabbage
- 4 potatoes
- 1 garlic clove (*optional)
- 1 bouquet garni
- 3 cloves
- salt and pepper
- Start by searing the two pieces of seasoned meat with a bit of clarified butter or olive oil in a big Iron Cast pot, high heat until brown on each side.
- Add the bouquet garni and cover the piece of meat (2cm over) with water.
- Let simmer for two and a half hours, covered (leaving a small opening to let the heat escape and prevent the stew from boiling), making sure there is always water in the pot.
- Cut all the veggies into thick pieces, except the carots, potatoes and onions (with cloves stuck in them) whole.
- Add all the veggies, except the green beans, on top of the meat and make sure there is always enough water to cover the pieces of meat, salt and pepper, cover and simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Make little bundles with the green beans and attach them with the help of a string, add them on top of the stew, cover, simmer 30 more minutes.
- Check and adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper).