A traditional beef stew with French origins, cooked slowly with loads of veggies for a memorable family dinner.
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 from my home called Lac-des-Aigles (Eagles lake) in Quebec, Canada. We would always arrive in the late afternoon and the Cast Iron pot would already be doing its magic on the stove in the kitchen upon our arrival, giving the house this comfy and welcoming aroma. In the pot was a succulent meat stew called Pot au feu, although it’s called Bouilli in Quebec. This recipe is a flashback to those nice visits at my grandparents place. My grandma would make this recipe starting from when the root veggies would be fully grown in the garden by the end of August throughout the winter. As one knows, Quebec, where I’m from, have inherited a lot from our cousins from France, amongst other things the language and the gastronomy. However everything took a slightly different direction, and it’s also the case with Pot au Feu.
The French vs. The French Canadian version
A popular peasant dish in both France and Quebec, this dish is considered by many the uncontestable comfort food. However the French version often contains leeks while the Canadian version uses green or yellow beans and potatoes. Another difference is the type of meat, in Canada, we usually add a piece of salted pork belly (Lard salé) which is a common in Canadian stews although in France they solely use beef pieces like extra bone marrows.
The recipe is terribly simple to do, all you need is 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 also 2 pieces of meat like a second quality piece of chuck roast 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 opening 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. 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 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 bottom broth. 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.
Finally, last week, my mom showed me her mom’s recipe for the first time, strangely I didn’t even tried it once before… I guess I wanted to keep the memory of the perfect stew of my grandma intact. 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 the habit of adding garlic to everything. In my family, we like to serve this dish with a nice fresh buttered white bread slice 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 pot!
Pot au Feu (Bouilli)
Makes 6-8 portions | Difficulty: easy| Preparation: 3.5 to 4 hours
- 1 kilo of Beef chuck roast (braising steak)
- 300g of salted pork belly (pancetta)
- 10 carrots peeled
- 400g of green beans or yellow beans
- 2 rutabaga or turnip
- 3 white onions
- 1/2 white cabbage
- 4 potatoes
- 1 garlic clove *optional
- 1 bouquet garni
- 3 cloves (stick them in the onions to find them easily in the end to remove them)
- salt and pepper
- Start by searing the 2 pieces of meat with a bit of clarified butter or olive oil in a big Iron Cast pot, high heat until brown on each side
- Once done add the bouquet garni and cover the piece of meat (2cm over) with water
- Let simmer for two and a half hours, covered with the lid (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 cabbage and rutabaga (or turnip) into big thick pieces, leave the carrots, 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 minutes more minutes
- Check and adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper)
- After 3.5 hours of slow cooking the stew is finally ready, the meat gets tender and break easily to serve, take out the cloves from the onions and serve with a bit of the bottom broth.