What is pot-au-feu? Pot-au-feu, or pot on the fire, is the French version of a pot roast or beef stroganoff. It is thought to have originated in the Alsace region of France, but no one really knows for sure. It is a thick, hearty stew made with beef and vegetables in a cream sauce. Some version of a pot-au-feu has been around since the days of the Ancient Romans, but it made its appearance to the general population somewhere around the 12th century. At the time, it was a humble dish enjoyed mostly by the poor. The ingredients varied by what the people had and where they were. Every pot was different, and they differed each time they were made, even in the same household.
The name pot-au-feu, or pot on the fire, came from the fact that most peasant households had a single hearth, in which a small fire would be kept burning for most of the day. Suspended from a hook, or nestled in the corner, was a large earthenware pot. In the morning, the ingredients would be thrown into this, covered with water and left to cook slowly for several hours. At lunch – then the main meal of the day – the meat and most of the vegetables would be consumed, while the thick broth that remained would be left to bubble away over the fire until the evening, when it would be served for dinner. The ingredients may have differed from household to household, but the method of cooking it was the same everywhere you went. It was usually only eaten for special occasions though, since meat was rarely eaten by the poor, and even then, it was only when times were good. During the lean times of the 16th century, however, pot-au-feu went from being a humble dinner for the peasants, to a dinner served to the more affluent, since the poor could no longer afford such a “luxurious” meal, and even the wealthier people were experiencing tougher financial times.
The origins of the beef stew dish can be traced to King Henry IV of France who ruled between 1553 and 1610. He was quoted as saying that all peasants should afford chicken in their pot at least once a week on Sundays. But as soon as money was more readily available, it once again was thought of as a dish for the “lower classes”. In the 20th century, when more people had more access to more money, it once again rose to popularity throughout the general populations, and has remained popular ever since.
This dish is made with simple, everyday ingredients. You can use chicken, beef or pork, and a combination of whatever root vegetables you have and that you like. It is then served over a hearty pasta or noodles of your choice.
American Pot-Au Feu or Beef with a Mustard-Mushroom Sauce
2-2 1/2 lbs of beef roast
cooking oil or olive oil mixed with butter
3/4 cup beef broth
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp marjoram
salt & pepper to taste
1 TBSP garlic
4 cups mushrooms, cut in half
2 cups small whole onions, peeled
2 cups carrots, cut into small pieces about 1-1 1/2 inches in size, or baby carrots
1 8-oz container of sour cream
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup flour
cooked noodles or pasta
Heat a large pot or Dutch oven until it is sizzling hot, then add the butter and/or oil and add the meat to brown. Brown the meat completely on all sides.
Combine the beef broth, garlic and seasonings and add to the beef once it is completely browned. Cover it and bring everything to a rapid boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and continue to cook for 1 1/4 hours. Then add the mushrooms, carrots and onions and return to a rapid boil and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Continue to cook for an additional 30-40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
When the vegetables are tender, remove the meat and vegetables and set aside. Combine the flour, mustard and sour cream and mix well. Add enough water to the juices to make 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Then add the sour cream mixture and incorporate it thoroughly with the pan juices. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until it is thick and bubbly.
Re-add the meat and the vegetables and incorporate them into the sauce.
Before serving I sliced the meat into thin strips and then served it all over penne pasta.
The meat and vegetables were very tender and the sauce divine. Since this is a beef dish, with a very rich and thick creamy sauce, I served it with some rolls and a glass of a bold red zinfandel to complete the meal.
C’est si bon, or French for oh so good.
Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.