pot o’fooey

This is a variant of the French beef stew called “pot au feu”, which literally means “pot on the fire.” It was so called because it was a pot always left on the fire in cold weather as a continuing preparation, with new ingredients being added to augment the portions that were removed in the preceding meal. People now have space heating separate from their stoves, so the practice vanished, but not the dish. Many countries also have similar dishes with local ingredients.

The exact components for making the particular variation bearing the title above* have alas been lost, and some would perhaps say “hoorah!” For it was born on the occasion of the final evening of a family ski vacation at Mammoth Mountain, in the California High Sierras, in a vacation cabin owned by a JPL colleague.

We had been there a week, with bone-warming, hearty fare each evening to break the chill of the slopes. Leftovers were stashed in the refrigerator, bits of beef steaks, soups, stew, chili, side dishes, and the like.

On the final evening, everything went into the stewpot, with whatever vegetables, uncooked meat, and red wine was still on hand. I, personally, thought it was very tasty. But the rest of the family was cautiously hesitant, possibly because of the title that I had chosen to give it.

The recipe that follows is better planned than my original and does not warrant a “fooey” response, but it is still in the name. It is a low-carb, lower-fat, less salty, and less complicated version of the classic recipe.

  • ½ lb beef shank, with bone
  • ½ lb beef chuck
  • ½ lb beef short ribs
  • 1 (10½-oz) can condensed beef or 10½ oz homemade consommé
  • 1 package onion soup mix
  • 1 clove, whole
  • 1 tsp dried leaf thyme
  • 1 tsp dried leaf savory
  • 1 small cinnamon stick broken up
  • 2 bay leaves, roughly crumbled
  • 1 tsp black and pink peppercorns (may substitute with all black)
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into large pieces, leaves intact
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 leeks, washed, cut lengthwise and then into large pieces
  • 1 large turnip, peeled and cut in eight
  • ½ head cabbage, in 4 wedges
  • <salt>, to taste
  • ½ loaf sour dough bread, sliced, toasted, spread with lite oleo, and sliced into quarters
  • pickles (sweet, dill, or sour)
  • Dijon mustard
  • fresh horseradish sauce

Tie the beef pieces into a tight bundle with the string and place it in a stockpot. Pour enough cold water into the stockpot to cover the ingredients. Add the consommé and onion soup mix. Insert the clove, thyme, savory, bay leaf, and peppercorns in a tea infusion ball, latch it, and put it in the pot.

Bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn the heat down so that it is just at a low simmer. Season the mixture with the <salt> and continue simmering it, uncovered, for 1½ hours. Add water, if needed, to keep the meat covered. Retain the simmer, do not boil. Skim away any coagulated meat solids as it forms.

Add the celery, carrots, leeks, turnips, and cabbage to the pot and continue simmering for 20 minutes. Check the vegetables for doneness, removing any that may have turned tender and cooked through. Remove and separate vegetables and meat from the pot and arrange the vegetables in groups around the meat on a serving platter. Keep warm in an oven heated to 175°F and then turned off.

Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and then rinse out the pot. Return the broth to the pot and bring it to boil for about 10 to 15 minutes, until it has reduced in volume and has a good, strong flavor. Transfer the hot broth to a serving bowl with ladle alongside the meat and vegetable platter.

Serve with toast triangles, pickles, mustard, and horseradish as a garnish.