The only difference between (people) all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind, even as there is between trees of the same species. Wherein is the cause for anger, envy or discrimination?
~Mahatma Gandhi

Pot-au-feu translates as “pot on the fire,” which is hearty French peasant fare. Granted, there is no raw beef, ginger, cardomom, cinnamon, mint, Thai chilies, basil, fish sauce, noodles (banh pho) or differing condiments and sauces as are found in phở (See February 3, 2009). Also, those seductive noodle sucking sounds are sadly lacking in pot-au-feu. But, given their culinary roots, cultural links, and France’s occupancy, colonization and even decimation of the Vietnamese peoples (preceded by China, followed by Japan and then the US) — it would not be surprising if feu slowly morphed into phở. Both words seem suspiciously harmonious to the ear. However, some etymologists dipute this assertion, especially given the stark culinary dissimilarities between the two dishes and due to some vague historical references.

POT AU FEU

1 lb beef shoulder or brisket
6 pieces of oxtail, cut 1 1/2″ thick
6 beef short ribs
1 veal shank, bone-in

6 whole cloves
2 onions, cut in halves
6 leeks, white part only
2 small celery roots, cut into quarters
2 medium turnips, cut into quarters
1 head garlic, cut transversely
4 medium carrots, cut into 4″ lengths
1 bouquet garni (2 sprig of flat parsley, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, and 2 bay leaves, stringed together)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 new red and white potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 cabbage head, cored and cut into 7 wedges

1 baguette, sliced
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

1/2 lb cornichons
1 C coarse sea salt
1 C hot Dijon mustard

In a large pot, combine the beef, oxtail, short ribs, and veal shank, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and as soon as the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Set the meat aside and throw out the water. Clean the pot and then put the meat right back into the pot.

Push cloves into each onion half and add the onions to the pot, along with the leeks, celery roots, turnips, garlic, carrots, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper and cover with cold water.

Bring the pot to a slow simmer, gradually, and let cook over medium low heat until the meat is tender or around 2 1/2 hours. Skim the cooking liquid with a ladle periodically to remove scum and foam. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until soft. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Remove the beef (shoulder or brisket) from the pot and slice into thick pieces. Remove the veal shank from the pot and cut the meat off the bone, again into ample pieces. Retrieve the marrow from the veal bone.

Pour some broth into serving bowls along with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese with thick slices of toasted baguette. Arrange the meats, marrow, and vegetables on a serving platter and ladle some cooking liquid over and around. Serve the rest in a sauce boat.

Put the cornichons, sea salt, and Dijon mustard into bowls on the table.

Are blogs simply a series of non sequiturs loosely linked together, clothed with nothing other than a central theme? Much like a toga drapes and folds.

Before reading further, it should be remembered that the word “blog” evolves from a loose blend of “web + log” — the latter being what the captain of a ship recorded (in writing).

My self conscious side aside, I still grapple with the notion of posting glossy, sometimes overwrought, processed images in a blogging medium that should be devoted to language. I do have a passion for photography, but. The fashionable nature of pretty pics also engenders unrealistic expectations and creates performance anxiety, then later humiliation, for those home cooks who merely seek a pinch of inspiration — dark clouds which ominously hover over home kitchens. Food photos tend not to dispel, but foment fear. Plus, remember that kitchen failure occasionally occurs, and there should be no shame for this.

 
Think of one example alone of this foodie perfectionism cult.  Once, I heard a food stylist’s interview during which he boasted that it took some 40+ different turkeys to create the perfect image for his T-Day shoot. No doubt these birds were lathered with shellac, varnish and who knows what else, almost all of which were 86’ed.

Until rather recently, a large number of cookbooks written by serious chefs have been pleasingly barren of such “likenesses.”  Now grub photos pervade cookbooks, magazines, online sites, social media, blogs and food TV. These shiny images are about plating, not cooking. Pics that please the eye not the palate. Even newly designed kitchens have augmented counter space so that foodstuffs can be fastidiously finessed and parceled out to diners.

This is by no means a total rant about some alluring blogs chocked with rather creative photography — I just have so far chosen a different path. Perhaps, I lament the societal overuse of glamorous still and video images in lieu of basic reading and descriptive writing which may in the long run do us wrong. Or maybe I should be summarily dismissed as old school or by wanting to work with text alone to connect brain and belly. For now, words must suffice; however, this does not mean I will not be persuaded otherwise as the images are admittedly enticing (sometimes), but sometimes unworthy.

Here, I deliver a classic sous chefs’ bovine favorite…and given that the cooking profession delights in braised ribs, could there be a more compelling consecration? So, please just try and picture these succulent, intense ribs splayed on the plate in your mind’s eye as cameras often detest bland looking brown food.

Short ribs may be served on the bone or with the meat removed, served in hunks or shredded.

BRAISED SHORT RIBS

1+ bottle dry red wine

3 lbs short ribs, cut 2″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
All purpose flour
Extra virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 leeks, up to pale green parts, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 beet, peeled and roughly chopped
1 turnip, peeled and roughly chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped

1 T tomato paste

2 C beef and/or chicken stock
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T honey
1 T fine cocoa powder

8 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 350 F

Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper.

In a large saucepan, boil wine until reduced by about half. Set aside.

Heat a hefty dutch oven lightly coated with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Likely in batches and without overcrowding, add the short ribs bone side down first and turn, to the pan and brown, about 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer browned ribs to a platter and loosely tent with foil.

Drain off much but not all of the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with a little more olive oil and add the onions and garlic; cook over medium high until softened and lightly colored. Add the leeks, celery, carrots, beet, turnip and parsnip and cook until sweatened, softened. Add the tomato paste, thyme, parsley, rosemary and saute several minutes more, gently stirring.

Return the short ribs to the pan and sprinkle with flour (but only if you did not dredge them in flour earlier, as above). Cook, stirring well, until flour is incorporated and beginning to brown. Then, add the stock, red wine vinegar, honey, cocoa powder, bay leaves, reduced wine to just to cover the meat and bring to a gentle boil, skimming off foam. Cover the pan, place in the oven and simmer until meat is very tender and falling off the bone, about 2 1/2 hours. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more wine, if needed. Turn the ribs occasionally, but rarely as too much fuss reduces heat.

Fetch the solids (vegetables) out of the braising liquid with a spider and reserve in a bowl. Then, strain the braising liquid into a heavy sauce pan. Reduce over medium high heat, skimming off any fat. Some suggest you should discard solids. I prefer to keep these heavenly beings and serve them in a shallow soup bowl on the table.

Serve with the braising sauce with artisanal noodles, polenta or cozied up to mashed potatoes.