Boiled dinner sounds so much sexier in French: Pot au feu

Pot au feu. (

By JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune

In January, I dream of warmth. Sunning on the beach in Tulum, Mexico, a stroll through the Rosedal garden in Buenos Aires, sitting by the waterfront in Key West. This year, I’ll make my own heat by lighting the fireplace, wrapping myself in soft wool and simmering something rich on the stove.

Working at home yields time to tinker over a simmering vessel. I’m thinking of the classic French pot au feu — a boiled dinner of beef, chicken, sausage and vegetables. The time investment yields a super-rich, meaty broth and tender proteins.

All boiled dinners, such as, along with pot au feu, corned beef and cabbage, scale up and down easily. I make enough to have planned leftovers. The boiled beef and chicken make great warm sandwiches. Leftover broth (which freezes well) welcomes the additions of rice or pasta for a hearty soup and can become the base of a pot of risotto.

The recipe here easily makes eight servings (you can halve the recipe if you like; cooking time will be about the same). It takes little time to assemble as there is no browning before the simmer. You can choose from beef shank (rich and tender), chuck roast (flavorful and easy to find) or lean brisket. I like bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs for their flavor and moisture retention. If you like a hint of smokiness, add a chunk of bacon. Fresh sausage, likewise, adds flavor.

I serve the one-pot meal in two courses as they do in France. First, a cup of that rich broth with a chunk of good bread. Then, a platter of the cooked meats and vegetables to enjoy with condiments such as pickles, mustard and garlicky mayonnaise. The ultimate warm comfort meal.

The simmering pot reminds me of pho — that hearty, highly seasoned Vietnamese rice noodle broth bowl. It’s easy to steer the pot au feu in that direction by adding star anise (for a bit of licorice flavor), the warmth of cinnamon and a sprightly hint of fresh ginger. Turns out, all these ingredients permeate the meats in a beautiful way, too.

To make a speedy bowl of soup reminiscent of the warmth and flavors of pho, simply slice up the cooked proteins and vegetables, add them back to the broth with soaked rice noodles, a splash of fish sauce, hot sauce and fresh lime. Garnish with minced green chile, plenty of green onion slices and fresh cilantro leaves. A squeeze of lime brightens all the flavors.

Perfect food after a brisk walk in the woods. Proof that January can be warm, after all.

Slow-simmered pot au feu, two ways

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 3 1/2 hours (largely unattended)

Makes: 8 servings and 3 quarts broth

The first seasoning option offers a classic flavor while the second set of options, including rice wine, star anise and edamame yield subtle Asian flavors. I like to use small baby carrots (not the machine-tumbled false baby carrots for snacking — they have no flavor) when I can find them. Alternatively, buy skinny larger carrots and cut them crosswise in half.

For the simmer and the broth:

  • 2 to 3 pounds beef shanks or bone-in beef chuck roast or lean brisket
  • 4 fresh (uncooked) Polish sausages or bratwursts, 1 to 1 1/4 pounds, OR 12 ounces fully-cooked andouille or chicken chorizo sausages
  • 4 to 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks, 1 1/4 pounds total
  • 2 to 4 thickly sliced strips smoky bacon, optional
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 1 large carrot, trimmed, roughly chopped
  • 1 rib celery, roughly chopped
  • 3 slices fresh ginger, about the size of a quarter
  • 1 cup dry white vermouth or dry white wine OR unsweetened rice wine

Seasoning options:

  • 4 bay leaves, 4 sprigs fresh thyme and 1 teaspoon dried tarragon, or 3 pieces star anise and 2-inch piece cinnamon stick

For the final platter:

  • 8 to 12 long baby carrots (8 ounces), peeled, trimmed, OR 6 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise
  • 3 small turnips, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges OR a 10-ounce chunk of daikon radish, peeled, halved, thickly sliced
  • 1/2 of a 12-ounce bag frozen pearl onions or 8 ounces fresh pearl onions, peeled
  • 1 cup frozen lima beans or shelled edamame
  • Salt
  • Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
  • Accompaniments:
  • Grainy, sharp mustard
  • Prepared horseradish
  • Mayonnaise or garlic aioli
  • Small pickles
  • Sliced and buttered sourdough or French bread

1. For the simmering and broth, put the beef, fresh sausages (not the fully cooked sausages), chicken, bacon, garlic, onion, carrot, celery, ginger and vermouth or wine into a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add 3 quarts cold water. (It should cover everything by an inch.) Add seasonings of choice: bay leaves, thyme and tarragon OR the star anise and cinnamon.

2. Heat to a boil; reduce heat to low. Simmer, partly covered, 30 minutes. Skim off any foam from the surface.

3. After 30 minutes, use tongs to transfer sausages and chicken to a covered container. Refrigerate covered. Continue cooking the beef and bacon in the liquid, stirring occasionally, until beef is fork-tender, 2 to 2 1/2 more hours. (Recipe can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate covered, then heat to continue.)

4. Add carrots, turnips, pearl onions, lima beans and 2 teaspoons salt to the simmering pot with the beef. Simmer until carrots and onions are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Return reserved chicken and sausages (or the fully cooked sausages if you are using them) to the pot and heat through, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt.

5. To serve, use tongs to transfer beef, bacon, chicken and sausages to a cutting board or platter; keep warm. Strain the broth into a clean pan; reheat it and season with salt. Serve broth in warm bowls accompanied by buttered bread. Thinly slice the meats and sprinkle lightly with salt. Sprinkle everything with parsley. Serve meats and vegetables with the accompaniments.

Note: You can skim the fat off the surface of the broth if you wish before reheating.

Nutrition information per serving: 402 calories, 24 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 118 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar, 31 g protein, 1,441 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

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