Saturday, January 20, 2018

Pot-au-Feu or Pot Bouilli – Pot on the Fire - France’s Most Famous Stew.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The pot-au-feu, a beef stew, was part of France’s culinary heritage long before Haute Cuisine.  Then, with the rise of a robust middle class after the French Revolution the pot-au- feu was raised to the heights of gastronomic art. Today’s well-schooled chefs remember their grandmother’s heavenly recipe for pot-au-feu that was served on a cold winter’s night; they have added the dish, and its wondrous tastes and smells to their Michelin starred restaurant’s menus.
The traditional pot-au-feu includes beef, marrow bones, carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, onions, potatoes, a clove-studded onion, garlic and a bouquet garni. There will be at least three different cuts of beef and the ingredients will be slowly cooked for hours.  
Occasionally the beef soup may be served first followed by the boiled beef served with vegetables and gravy from the stew as the plat principal, the main course. Whether or not the soup is served separately is not that important, but the best traditional pot-au-feu’s are accompanied by fresh country bread, mustard, cornichons and those tasty small French pickled white onions.
Depending on the region and the chef’s tradition the recipe may be the traditional beef, or it may be veal or lamb; some versions may include chicken, duck, pork or sausages.  Many fish restaurant menus offer a pot au feu de la mer, a stew of sea fish and seafood. 
Pot-au-feu on French menus:

Pot-au-feu Albigeois - Pot-au-feu from the department of Tarn; it is made with added goose or duck confit. There are many regional versions of pot-au-feu, and the name of the region indicates the difference in the recipes. (Tarn is part of Languedoc- Roussillon now included in the super-region of Occitanie).
Pot au feu de Canard et Légumes Anciens – A duck stew with heirloom vegetables. The heirloom vegetables may include Jerusalem artichokes, multi-colored carrots, turnips, parsnips, and kohlrabi.
Pot-au-feu, Sauce Ravigote – A beef pot–a-feu served with a Sauce Ravigote.  Sauce Ravigote is a thick vinaigrette sauce made with mustard, eggs, olive oil, shallots, spring onions, chives, parsley, and chervil.  This sauce is served with many fish, shellfish, poultry and meat dishes.

Sauce Ravigote.
Pot-au-feu de Fruits de Mer au Bouillon Safrané – A seafood stew made with a saffron-flavored broth.
Pot au feu de Lapin– A rabbit stew.

Pot-au-feu- de la mer – A fish and seafood pot-au-feu.
Similar dishes with traditional names:
Azinat Ariégeois -  A pot-au-feu from Ariege. Ariege is a department in Midi-Pyrénées that became part of the new super-region of Occitanie that was created on 1-1-2016 when the regions of Midi-Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon were joined.
Baeckeoffe or Potée Alsacienne  - From the Alsace; now part of the new super region of the Grand Est. This dish includes cuts of beef and pork or lamb and possibly goose and Alsatian sausages. The vegetables will include France's ubiquitous white haricot beans, onions, carrots, leeks, and potatoes.
Boeuf en Hochepot de Légumes Printaniers – Ox-tail stew with spring vegetables.  Here a meaty oxtail will be adding to or replacing the beef in the pot-au-feu. Oxtail stew is a traditional dish in Normandy and parts of the new super-region of Hauts de France as well as Belgium where it will be a Hochepot Flamand.  William the Conqueror came to England in 1066 and brought the French connection to the English kitchen including the hochepot. A hochepot includes all the leftovers in the kitchen and gave its name to odds and ends called a hodgepodge in the English language.

Bouilli or Pot bouilli – Another name for a pot-au-feu.

Garbure Gasconne - From the old province of Guyenne and Gascony now included in parts of the new super-regions of Nouvelle Aquitaine and Occitanie. Garbures, are thick vegetable soups that include ham, bacon, and duck, or goose confit. Gascony was home to the semi-fictional figures of  D’Artagnan from the Three Musketeers (born in Gers) and Cyrano de Bergerac (born in the Dordogne).
Kig ha Farz –  A pot-au-feu in the manner of Brittany.  The name comes from the Breton language which is related to the Celtic languages of Cornwall and Wales and used for many of Brittany's traditional dishes.  Here to the meats and vegetables of a pot-au-feu is added the “farz brujun” made from crumbly blé de sarrasin, buckwheat flour.  Buckwheat flour has a distinctive, mild, nutty taste and a dark color. Buckwheat is gluten-free. The French name for buckwheat flour, farine de sarrasin, stretches back to the crusades.
Potée Auvergnate - From the Auvergne, now part of the new super-region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.These potées will include duck, ham, salt pork, and pork sausages.

Beef and other meat or poultry stews were never part of the French peasant's food; the peasants lived on bread and vegetable soups with the occasional piece of meat or poultry added on religious holidays. 

The name Pot-au-Feu.
Pot-au-feu only reached French dictionaries in 1785-1795 according to Dictionary.Com: then the French revolution began, and France’s first restaurants were opening.The words pot-au-feu translates as a pot on the fire, and apart from the stew indicates the traditional earthenware casserole in which the ingredients were cooked. In French homes of the period, these casseroles would have been left to cook slowly on the heated stove all day and night with ingredients added to and taken out as needed.
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.

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