Top | While my sautoir gently sweats — Blog

Pot au feu

(post, John Dryzga)

Class started off with the normal buzz of activity, people setting up their stations, collecting their mis en place and the prepping of the vegtables.  On the schedule this week was pot au feu, the classic French boiled dinner, and fruit tarts made with the puff pastry we made last week.  Precisely at 9:30 Chef Nic started roll call and started the lecture on pot au feu.  He told an interesting story on pot au feu's peasant lineage.  The people needed a dish they could start in the morning, then let cook all day while they toiled in the fields.  Originally, it was cooked in large vessels that were buried in smoldering ashes and left to simmer all day.  As with many of the recipes we have prepared over the last six months, pot au feu has recieved a makeover.  First, the meat had to be blanched to remove the impurities that will cloud the finished cooking liquid.  Chef had us huddle around the steam kettle where there was a large quanity of short ribs bubbling away.  A steam kettle is a large cooking vessel that could easily serve as a witch's cauldron.  We would not be cooking our own pot au feus, instead we would be creating a huge communal one.

This left us to prepare the vegetables that would be served with it.  All the trimmings from this process would go into the pot au feu.  My old nemesis tournage raised is ugly head again as I got busy with the potatoes and the turnips.  J jumped in prepping the leeks, celery and carrots.  I must say that my tournage is improving each time I have to do it.  One century I will get it right.  With our veg prepped and cooked, we proceeded to work on our tarts.

The puff pastry we made last week was defrosted and waiting on a tray for us.  Chef Nic demoed how to roll it out and shape the tart.  The tart then had to be blind baked.  This was a little tricky.  You had to shape aluminum foil into a container to that conformed to the part of the tart that was to be filled.  The aluminum container was then filled with beans to prevent that part of the tart from rising.  Since my tart was a little more "rustic" than Chef's, this did not go smoothly.  Soon, J and I's tarts were in the oven getting golden brown and delicious.

When they were ready, we pulled our tart shells from the oven.  Man, they were all sorts of sad.  A quick scan around the room quickly confirmed that we did not excell at tart shaping!  Mine was especially homely, probably due to the fact that the dough I made last week was to wet.  Putting our shame aside, we quickly whipped up a batch of pastry cream to fill the tart.  This stuff rocks!  Some sugar, egg yolks, flour and corn starch, heat and whisking yields a bowl of heaven.  We trimmed our tarts a bit, filled with the pastry cream, then we tarted up our tarts with some fruit.  Hey, these things are not that ugly any more!  While they certainly are not ready for the cover of "Gourmet", they didn't have to be hid in the cellar and fed through a slot either.

With the tarts done and the pot au feu finished, we had one more recipe to complete.  We had to create a horseradish sauce for the pot au feu.  A quick roux was made, some of the cooking liquid added to the pan, finish with the horseradish and salt and pepper.  A simple but very tasty sauce to compliment the pot au feu.  Since the meat in the pot au feu tends to be a little bland, pot au feu is traditionally served with very strong tasting condiments: dijon mustard, cornichons, coarse sea salt and this horseradish sauce.  Chef served up some pot au feu on a platter and we fell upon it, forks in hand, like some starving mob.  The texture of the meat was tremendous and the taste did indeed improve with the addition of the condiments.  When the last scraps were dvoured off of Chef's plate, we doled out servings of pot au feu to ourselves to enjoy later.  Our tarts were then lovingly wrapped to keep them pretty during their long trip home.