Since both of us are gone during the winter days, and since we had never had an airtight cookstove that would hold a fire all day or all night, we've never tried using a stock pot to make pot-au-feu. Literally translated, "pot-au-feu" means "pot on the fire." This traditional French dish usually involves cheaper cuts of beef, which need long cooking times to become tender, and vegetables cooked together. The pot would be left on the fire at all times, vegetable and meat scraps would be added as they became available, the grease skimmed from the top occasionally, and a quick supper of a once-in-a-lifetime soup could be had when desired.
Now that it has gotten colder and the stove is being fired daily, I decided to try my hand at this interesting dish. About two weeks ago, I had grilled T-bone steaks (the last from our home-grown steer). The bones from these steaks had a little bit of meat left on them, and they formed the base of our first pot-au-feu. I put them in the eight quart stock pot and filled it about half full of water. We had a half of an onion in the refrigerator that was beginning to look a little tired around the edges, so I cut it up and put it into the kettle with the beef bones.
Over the course of the next several days, all manner of leftovers were put into the kettle: pieces of tomato left from chicken veggie wraps, bones from pork steaks, an odd scrap of bacon that escaped repackaging when we were dividing up the pile of it which we purchased on a bulk meat sale, and even the bones left from fried chicken.
During the first week, we were experiencing chilly weather, so the pot stayed on the stove all of the time. I had read somewhere that as long as the pot was brought to a brisk boil each day, the broth wouldn't spoil, and so that is what I did. The weather last week was a bit warmer, so we were not banking the fire to last throughout the day. I removed the kettle from the stove and refrigerated it. This gave me the opportunity to skim the small amount of fat which congealed on the top. I put the pot back on the stove yesterday morning, knowing that the stove would be fired all day for other cooking purposes. In fact, that is when I put the chicken bones in. I was a bit nervous about that, by the way. It seemed rather strange to be putting fried chicken remains into a pot of boiling water, and I had read that you should be careful about putting poultry pieces into pot-au-feu because of the very small bones that can present a hazard. However, I did it anyway, and you cannot imagine what a delicious aroma issued forth from the stockpot after that!
All of this brings us to this afternoon. I strained the broth, picked the meat off the bones and returned it and the tomato and onion chunks to the broth. The broth was horribly bland, so I seasoned it with salt and pepper, garlic salt, dried parsley, a couple of bay leaves, and a handful of dried onion flakes. I cocked the lid of the kettle so that it could reduce for awhile. It simmered for a about an hour, and then I emptied a baggie of leftover homemade angel hair pasta into it.
While that cooked, I whipped up some buttermilk biscuits, using a new mixing method that a friend sent to me over a year ago via e-mail. Instead of cutting the shortening into the flour, you melt the shortening and then beat it into the cold buttermilk or milk. The result is that the shortening is evenly distributed. It worked splendidly.
At any rate, by the time the biscuits were done, the soup had reduced to about half of its original volume of liquid, and it was wonderful. As I see it, the best part of the whole thing was that we had an amazing soup which cost us nothing more than a tiny bit of seasoning, and the making of the soup actually reduced our food waste. Pot-au-feu is definitely not a dish that one would attempt with a modern stove, but it is ideally suited to the wood cookstove, and I have a hunch that we will be enjoying quite a few of these over the next few months.
|Our first bowl of "pot-au-feu."|