Monday, 22 February 2021

Pot au feu

Homemade pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Pot au feu is an old French classic. Not fine dining by any means, more of a peasant feast. The name simply means 'pot on the fire'. It requires nothing more than cheap bulk ingredients, a knife to chop them up into a big pot and a 'fire'.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


About 1.5 kg vegetables -- a mixture of onion, leek, celery or celeriac and carrots

About 1.5 kg stewing beef -- a mixture of short rib, shank and chuck steak

A couple of marrow bones

Parsley, thyme and bay leaves tied up in leek greens to form a bouquet garnie

1/2 tsp black peppercorns


4 - 5 l water

3 carrots, cut into chunks

A rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks

4 celery stalks, cut into 5 cm lengths, or a celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks

2 leeks, cleaned and cut into chunks 

500 g potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks



  1. Clean, peel and cut the 1.5 kg of vegetables into large chunks.
  2. Put the vegetables into a large pot, put the meat and marrow bones on top.
  3. Add the bouquet garnie, peppercorns and some salt (at least a teaspoon).
  4. Pour the water over and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for two and a half hours.
  5. Pick out the meat and marrow bones with tongs and put aside.
  6. Strain the stock and put the vegetables aside.
  7. Put the stock back in the big pot and add the uncooked celery, leeks, rutabaga and carrot, along with the reserved meat.
  8. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for half an hour.
  9. Add the potatoes and simmer for a further 40 minutes.
  10. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.
  11. To serve, fish out the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in soup bowls. Add a couple of ladles of stock.
  12. Serves 8.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

It is not traditional to brown the meat before you add it to the pot, which is one of the ways you can tell it is a very old recipe. However, modern palates are used to the caramelisation you get from the searing process, and there is no reason not to do it if you like (or can be bothered...). 

A truly traditional pot au feu would contain generous quantities of turnips. Neither Simon nor I like turnips, so I have deliberately dodged them. I also haven't bothered to peel the potatoes, which a French cook would almost certainly do.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

You will be left with lots of beef stock, which you can make onion soup with.

Ingredients for pot au feu. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

And you will have some very soft cooked vegetables put aside in Step 6. Pick out the peppercorns and puree the vegetables. Add stock until you have a velouté soup consistency. Reheat and serve with croutons.



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Ken Broadhurst said...

How about rutabagas? "Cheap bulk ingredients" doesn't make it sound very appetizing, but a pot au feu can be really delicious.

Jean said...

Pot au feu is delicious and so simple. I'm still in love with your dinner service, too!
The thing about it that amuses me is that one of the insults levelled at British cooking by the French is that we boil our meat, yet I personally never boil meat, never have, unless cooking in a nice rich casserole counts as boiling. I have seen more French recipes where meat is boiled than English ones.....!!

Susan said...

Ken -- what about rutabagas? I don't put them in the initial stock making mix, but they are included for the second batch of veggies that don't get cooked to death. Simon refuses to eat them nonetheless, but I quite like them. I find pot au feu is a really parsimonious dish -- made as I say with cheap bulk ingredients and straightforward technique. No fuss no fanciness.

Jean -- ditto. I grew up in a household where the only 'boiled' meat would have been corned beef -- super popular in Australian rural kitchens in my childhood. The butcher where I grew up is famous for his corned silverside. I was quite surprised when we got to England and I couldn't buy anything similar. I'd never encountered corned beef in a tin before.

chm said...

Susan, you left out another step of having pot-au-feu. It is "faire chabrot ou chabrol". It is a common practice (even a tradition) in different regions of France. It consists in pouring red wine in your plate of hot beef bouillon that you have to begin the meal. It is delicious.

chm said...

In our house we used to know it as champoreau.

chm said...

I classic French pot-au-feu recipes, I doubt you will see any rutabaga. Traditionnaly, it was a feed for farm animals, and since the Occupation it has a bad reputation as a cooking product.b

Susan said...

chm -- I've had the red wine in soup thing at friend's. I'm afraid I didn't take to it. You are quite right about rutabaga. I've just been told quite sharply by my friend Chantale that she's never seen rutabaga in pot au feu :-)

Ken Broadhurst said...

French people have a real phobia when it comes to rutabagas. However, there are big piles of them in the supermarkets, so somebody must be buying and enjoying them. There are also purple-white turnips and yellow turnips. When you say "bulk" ingredients do you mean that the vegetables and meat don't have to be sliced or diced?

Ken Broadhurst said...

On the web I see many French recipes for pot au feu that include rutabagas — this one, for example. Parsnips would be good. I think you can put nearly any vegetable you want in a pot au feu as in a potée. On ne discûte pas des goûts et des couleurs, et il faut sortir des sentier battus.

Jean said...

Our favourite way of using rutabaga (swede) is combined with potato as mash. You have to put the swede on first to boil as it takes longer than potatoes but it's a delicious as a topping for cottage pie or fish pie.

Susan said...

Ken -- I completely agree with you. Rutabagas are widely available, so someone is buying them.

Jean -- I like a mixed mash like that too, but Simon isn't keen.

Ken Broadhurst said...

It's interesting to think that in Europe, including France, potatoes were considered to be inedible and only fed to livestock for many decades. Now they are a staple of our diet. Maybe rutabagas are the food of the future. As with turnips, they need long, slow cooking. Halfway cooked, they aren't as good. Radishes, including radis noirs, are good cooked the same way. Other vegetables that are good in pot au feu or potées are all kinds of cabbages, endives, topinambours, leeks, and winter squashes. When you think about it, couscous broth/stew is a pot au feu with eggplant, tomato, zucchini, spices, and chickpeas added.

Susan said...

France was particularly slow to adopt the potato for human consumption.

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