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Category Archives: Soups

Pot au feu – classic beef and vegetable stew


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One French word: pot, a French recipe: pot au feu, classic beef and vegetable stew.

Half of France must eat pot au feu at the weekend in Winter. It’s a staple of the French diet, cheap and easy to do, comforting, and with its different variations on leftovers, lasts all week. If not a pot au feu, then a potée or a ragoût, variously named each according to its region.

Pot au feu literally means pot on the fire, and used to be a cauldron bubbling over an open hearth. Now of course it’s a presssure cooker more often than not (but not in my house, I’ve never understood pressure cookers).

Un pot au feu is always made with beef, cheap cuts that need ample stewing, with onions (des oignons), leeks (des poireaux), carrots (des carottes), turnips (des navets), sometimes swedes (des rutabagas) and parsnips (des panais), and of course potatoes (des pommes de terre). It should stew for hours and hours, until the meat is meltingly tender, and the vegetables, some of which are just added half an hour before serving, tender and colourful.

Une potée is usually made with pork, a hock (un jarret), some fat smoked sausages (des saucisses de Morteau for instance), a piece of salted pork belly (un morceau de petit salé), and maybe a trotter or two (des pieds de porc). Accompanied by vegetables as above, but often also a Savoy cabbage (un chou frisé) cut in two or four pieces, tops the pot. It is then known as une potée au chou.

Un ragoût is usually made with mutton (du mouton ou de l’agneau), pieces of neck (du collier) and belly (du sauté d’agneau), fried first with a large onion, to which beans of one kind or another are often added.

Another variation on this theme is a poule au pot,    an old hen, stuffed with rice (it then becomes une poule au riz), boiled for a couple of hours with vegetables as before.  Legend has it that Henri IV, a popular French king, who was nevertheless assassinated, but not before declaring that he would ensure that each labourer in his kingdom should have the means to place a poule au pot on his Sunday table! Here is a video on the subject which you might like to listen to to practise your comprehension of spoken French http://videos.tf1.fr/jt-13h/2010/henri-iv-et-la-legende-de-la-poule-au-pot-5852134.html

Since the word of the day is pot, here are a few expressions or meanings of the word:

un pot is a pot; a flower pot = un pot de fleurs; a chamber pot = un pot de chambre; a bribe = un pot de vin (literally a pot of wine); a drink = (just) un pot; to be lucky = avoir du pot; an expression “le pot de terre contre le pot de fer“, literally an earthenware pot against an iron pot, in other words, an unequal combat, where one side is stronger than the other.

But my recipe this week is for a pot au feu, the beef and vegetable stew described above.

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Pot au feu, main ingredients

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1kg500 stewing beef, try a mixture of cuts
  • A marrow bone per person
  • A piece of celery, a bay leaf and some thyme to make a bouquet garni
This is a bouquet garni

This is a bouquet garni

  • 9 large carrots
  • One large onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 8 small turnips
  • 8 leeks
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 parsnips (optional)
  • 4 swedes (optional)
  • 8 large potatoes
  • 3 star anise
  • salt, pepper, pickled gherkins

Preparation, Day 1:

  • In a very large saucepan, or a pressure cooker, in which case you will have to modify cooking times all by yourself, place the meat (but not the bones) in enough cold water to cover it all amply. Add the onion, into which you have inserted the cloves (spices, not garlic), the star anise, a small handful of coarse salt, the whole garlic cloves, the whole green top of one leek, and one carrot cut into small pieces.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 hours.
  • Place in a cool place until the next day.

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Preparation, Day 2:

  • Skim any solidified fat off the top of the contents of the pan and remove the leek greens, the star anise and the bouquet garni.
  • Peel the carrots, cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise. Top and tail the turnips, leave the peel on.  Wash the leeks and remove the tougher parts of the green leaves, cut them into two pieces. No need to peel the potatoes, just scrub them clean and cut into two or four if they are too enormous. Peel and cut the parsnips and swedes into pieces if you are including them.
  • Place all the vegetables and the marrow bones into the pot (you see why you really need a very large one!). The marrow bones will add flavour and if you like beef marrow, will add an extra treat on your plate.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour.
  • Serve each person a helping of meat, vegetables and a marrow bone. Add only a little of the bouillon (soup), it is nice to mash the potatoes in it.
  • Place toasted bread, coarse salt and gherkins on the table to accompany.
  • The marrow should be extracted from the bone, spread on toast with a little salt on top.

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Day 3:

  • Strain off some of the liquid into another saucepan, add some very fine vermicelli or alphabet pasta, heat for 10 minutes and serve as soup with crusty bread.

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Day 4:

  • Boil some salad potatoes and season while hot with white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a chopped shallot, a chopped hard boiled egg,some chopped parsley and the rest of the pot au feu meat in 1cm cubes. This is a really excellent cold salad.

Day 5 :

  • Mix up whatever vegetables are left with the remaining bouillon with a soup mixer. I tend not to mix too much, to leave a rich coarse soup. It has become concentrated and is particularly flavoursome.

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So you see that with very little effort on days 1 and 2, you will have readymade dishes on days 3, 4 and 5 as well! Just be careful to keep your pot in the fridge if you have room, or in a very cool place (out of doors if Winter temperatures are near freezing).

Bon appétit!

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One French word: potage, a French recipe: potage poireaux/lentilles corail au colombo


Potage, masculine noun (le potage, un potage, des potages) = thick soup (pronounced paw-ta-j)

Lots of different words for soup: la soupe, le bouillon, le potage, le consommé, crème de… (cream of… for creamy soups), le bisque, le velouté, le brouet…

Mange ta soupe, ça te fera grandir is a favourite French expression (eat your soup to grow big and strong).

La Soupe (1865) by William Adolphe Bougereau

La soupe populaire = a soup kitchen

Potage comes from potager = the vegetable garden.

It was cold this morning here, very cold, there was a ground frost during the night, so I thought I’d make soup. I have no old potatoes left, new potatoes are already on the market stalls, so I used orange lentils instead to make a potage poireaux/lentilles corail.

You will need for 4 people:

  • One really large leek plus the tops off some smaller ones, or one large and one medium leek
  • 1tbs butter to sweat the leeks
  • 100gr orange lentils
  • 2 bouillon cubes and a litre of water, or a litre of home made stock if you have it
  • 1 scant level tsp of colombo powder or curry powder (colombo is a Jamaican mix of ground herbs and spices: chili pepper, mustard seeds, sweet chili,  coriander, garlic and curcuma. It is quite powerful but more aromatic than bought curry powder. Do not be tempted to put more. Its purpose is just to give a hint of “something else”, not be overpowering.

Preparation:

  1. Wash and chop the leeks and sweat gently in the butter.
  2. Add the rinsed lentils and stir until the leeks have softened.
  3. Add the colombo powder, the bouillon cubes and the water (or home made stock) and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Whizz to a smooth consistency.
  5. Serve with a dash of cream and a little chopped parsley or any other herb of your choice (in other words, whatever you have on hand – I used pourpier = purslane).

Soups are simple, quick to prepare and endlessly wholesome and comforting.

Bon appétit!

One French word: courge, a French recipe: soupe poireau/courge


Courge, feminine noun (une courge, la courge, des courges) = squash (pumpkin or marrow) (pronounced coorj).

Une courgette (zucchini) is a baby courge.

The family is enormous, of course, here are two photos of the type I used: a courge musquée. It is one of the tastier types of squash, a bit like a potimarron. Not just tasteless pumpkin which needs added flavouring to be in any way interesting. Quite sweet and nutty.

A packet of Courge Musquée seeds from Vilmorin, the French seed specialists

A photo of a courge musquée from Rustica.fr

The family of recipes is enormous too, of course. Mine is for a leek and squash soup: soupe poireau/courge. This is a soup which is not mixed, not smooth; the vegetables are left whole.

Soupe poireau/courge

For two people you will need:

  • A very large fat leek, washed and chopped
  • A little olive oil or butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 250gr of chunked steamed courge musquée (or raw, just cook the soup longer)
  • 1 stock cube  and 600ml water (or 600ml home made stock)
  • A thick slice of stale wholemeal bread (2.5cm/1″)
  • 100ml liquid cream
  • Grated cheese

The slice of bread in the soup pot

Preparation:

  1. Sweat the cleaned, chopped leek in a little olive oil or butter, on low heat for 5 minutes
  2. Add the garlic and the stock cubes followed by the water (or home made stock instead of cubes and water)
  3. Cut a thick slice of stale wholemeal bread and add whole to the top of the soup (this will pump up a lot of liquid, so make sure you have enough).
  4. Cook gently  for 20 minutes if you are using steamed courge, or for 30 minutes if you use it raw.
  5. Serve the soup as it is, with the chunks and slices of vegetables, one garlic clove per warmed bowl.
  6. Add a good dash of cream, and share the slice of bread between the two bowls, generously covered with grated cheese.

Grated cheese to top the soup

You can also add the bread at the end, a thinner toasted slice, covered in cheese. But I prefer the rusticity of the big soup-soaked slice.

This is not a tidy dish to eat. Slurps and strings of cheese and so on abound. But it is cheap and healthy fare, and a way of using up the courge that you have left at the end of winter.

Bon appétit!

One French word : volaille, a French recipe: crème de volaillle


Volaille, feminine noun (une volaille, la volaille, des volailles) = poultry (pronounced vau-lie (like telling a lie). In the singular, it’s a farmyard bird, in the plural, poultry.

It comes from the verb voler (to fly). No clever definitions and examples today, I can’t find any.

But my recipe is for crème de volaille = cream of chicken soup, which is the ultimate comfort food.

Crème de volaille

For a large pot of soup, for about 6-8 people, you will need:

  • three medium sized leeks, washed and chopped
  • 2 small potatoes
  • a large bunch of parsley
  • a couple of handfuls of meat from a cold chicken
  • 2 litres of water and 2 stock cubes (or 2 litres of home-made chicken stock)
  • pepper
  • butter and flour to make a beurre manié (1tbs soft butter, 1 tbs flour, mixed well with a fork to form a paste)
  • a little whipping cream
  • a few celery or fennel seeds

Preparation:

  1. Sweat the leeks in a little oil or butter until softened.
  2. Add the cubed potatoes, the chicken pieces chopped into smallish pieces, and the parsley and cook for a further minute or two.
  3. Pour on the stock or the water with the cubes.
  4. Simmer gently for a good half hour.
  5. Mix well with a soup mixer, until very creamy with no bits and lumps.
  6. Add the beurre manié and stir well. (The beurre manié thickens the soup.)
  7. Test for seasoning and add a little pepper.
  8. Whip some cream with a little celery salt,  and pipe a large rosette into the middle of each serving, topped with a few celery or fennel seeds, to garnish.

Bon appétit.

One French word: hiver, a French recipe: potage aux légumes d’hiver


Hiver, masculine noun (un hiver, l’hiver, des hivers) = winter (pronounced eee-vaire, ahneee-vaire, leee-vaire, daisy-vaire, no particular stress, no s heard in the plural).

The seasons: hiver=winter, printemps=spring, été=summer, automne=autumn

Hivernage = overwintering

Adjective hivernal = wintery:  un temps hivernal = wintery weather (m); une nuit hivernale = a wintery night (f); des jours hivernaux = wintery days (m.pl.); des étoiles hivernales = wintery stars (f.pl.). All adjectives have masculine singular and plural, and feminine singular and plural forms to go with the noun they are describing, depending upon whether that noun is itself masculine or feminine, singular or plural. (End of grammar lesson for today.)

On to cooking. My recipe is for potage aux légumes d’hiver = winter vegetable soup, a hearty warming soup to come back to after working or walking in the cold.

For 4 people you will need:

  • a couple of good sized leeks
  • 200gr carrots
  • 200gr potato
  • a 1″ (2.5cm) piece of ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • A handful of fresh parsley
  • 30gr butter
  • 2 stock cubes and 1 1/2 litres of water (or 1 1/2 litres of home made chicken stock)
  • some fresh cream

Preparation:

  1. Wash and slice the leeks.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the leeks and sweat (cook very gently), stirring occasionally, until transparent. They should not colour.

Les ingrédients pour mon potage aux légumes d’hiver

3. Peel and slice the carrots and potatoes. Add to the pan and stir. Cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes.

4. Peel and chop the ginger, peel the garlic. Add these to the vegetables.

5. Pour in the chicken stock or add the cubes and water, stir and turn the flame up high to bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Stir in some fresh cream, the amount depends on you really. I put about 10cl (a 20th of a pint). Blend with a soup blender, but not for too long so that the potato does not go goopy.

Potage d’hiver

This is a simple hearty soup that needs no garnishes other than fresh crusty bread.  Make lots, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, and freezes well.

Bon appétit.

One French word: concombre, a French recipe: concombre à la crème


Concombre, masculine noun (un concombre, le concombre, des concombres) = cucumber (pronounced cawn-cawm-b-re, you only hear the n and the m minimally, in fact the two syllables are pronounced virtually identically, the stress is very slightly on the second syllable).

Être élevé au jus de concombre (literally to be raised on cucumber juice) = to look anaemic, sickly.

But far from being sickly, the refreshing cucumber, with its bright green skin and cooling green pulp, adds delicate colour and freshness to a lot of dishes. Showing it off on a plate with anything that is pale pink will ensure success. Serve it in summer as an iced soup. To use hot as a vegetable, peel and seed it, cut it into sticks an inch long and sauté it quickly in butter. Or in a salad, as concombre à la crème, which is my recipe for today.

In France, this is usually served as a starter (hors d’oeuvre), but I like to serve it with cold poached salmon for example. Quick and easy to do, there are nevertheless certain tricks to remember.

Concombre à la crème

For 6 people you will need:

A whole cucumber

150gr greek yogurt, whipping cream or sour cream

1 tbs chopped herbs (mint, dill, chives, parsley)

Coarse salt

Black pepper

Concombre à la crème with poached salmon and steamed potatoes

Preparation:

  1. Wash the cucumber, do not peel, cut into very thin slices either with a knife or on a snazzy slicing machine (a mandoline in French), or even in the food processor. I personally find that it is quicker to wash up just a knife.
  2. Put the slices of cucumber into a sieve and add a handful of coase salt. Make sure the salt is in contact with a maximum surface of cucumber by mixing well with your hand. Leave to stand for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Mix the yoghurt or cream with freshly ground pepper and your chosen herbs. Do not salt the mixture.
  4. Rinse the cucumber abundantly under running cold water. Get rid of all the salt. Drain and put onto a clean tea-towel and squeeze dry. Really squeeze, it doesn’t matter if the cucumber slices are a but scrunched up.
  5. Add to the cream mixture, et voilà.

 

Concombre vinaigrette (with rather a lot of pepper)

Another option is to use vinaigrette instead of the yoghurt (concombre vinaigrette). This also makes a delicious summer starter (or winter starter for that matter, I had some for my lunch yesterday).

Cucumber soup (soupe glacée au concombre) is quick and easy to make too. No cooking needed.  Peel and deseed 3 cucumbers (for 6 people). Mix well in the blender, and add a clove of garlic, 2 pots of plain yoghurt, the equivalent of one yoghurt pot of crème fraîche, salt and pepper to taste, the juice of half a lemon and a small handful of mint. Blend again and refrigerate. Serve in individual bowls garnished with a sprig of mint and a really thin slice of lemon.

Bon appétit.

One French word: laitue, a French recipe: crème de laitue


Laitue, feminine noun (la laitue, une laitue, des laitues) = lettuce (pronounced lé-tu, no particular stress, no s heard in the plural).

Lettuce, the humble basic salad, but so delicious, especially when home grown and startlingly green, with slighly chewy leaves!

I can’t find a good expression using laitue to share with you, but panier à salade (literally salad basket or salad shaker) is a French phrase for the vehicles the French police use to arrest and cart people around in. Originally horse drawn, as they drove across the cobbled streets of Paris, they shook the inmates up thoroughly, hence the name. I believe in the US they were called Paddywagons, and in the UK Black Marias.

Panier à salade

Panier à salade (photo from Google)

Paddywagon, Duluth, 1909 (wikipedia photo)

My recipe for today is crème de laitue, cream of lettuce soup. This is an excellent way of using the outside leaves of a lettuce, and indeed, can be made even if you do not have much in the fridge! It is also a light and tempting soup when you don’t really feel like eating a lot.

Crème de laitue

Potage crème de laitue

For 4 servings (cupfuls) you will need (don’t forget to look at my conversion table page):

  • The outside leaves equivalent to half a large lettuce
  • 200gr potato
  • 30gr butter
  • 500ml water
  • 3/4 tsp coarse salt (gros sel)
  • Pepper
  • 100ml cream

Preparation:

  1. Remove, wash and chop roughly the required amount of lettuce leaves.
  2. Peel and cube the potato.
  3. Place the lettuce and the potato in a saucepan with the water, the butter and the salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the cream and two or three twists of the pepper mill. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
  5. Mix smooth with a soup blender, but for a short time only. If potato is too mixed, it goes goopy.

I’m almost ashamed to give you something so simple to do! But then, good things don’t have to be complicated, do they?

The brilliant green colour and delicate aroma of this soup are really appetizing. So…

Bon appétit.

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