From New England boiled dinner to French pot au feu, beef braised in the same pot as fresh seasonal vegetables is a mainstay of traditional western culinary culture. Inexpensive fresh brisket or chuck is a popular cut for these homey, slow-cooked specialties, although rump or round roast can be substituted.
The slow, moist heat generated by braising below the boiling point tenderizes even tougher cuts of meat. Beef broth, stock or wine is a traditional cooking liquid for braises, but for a number of "boiled" beef classics, including corned beef and the pot au feu that follows, water and simple seasonings are the cooking medium. Given unhurried, gentle cooking, the flavors of the beef marry with those of the vegetables, spices and herbs, creating a light, delicious broth to start off the meal.
Good utensils for braising on top of the stove are a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or large, deep frying pan with a tight-fitting lid.
This simplified version of a French boiled dinner is made with beef and vegetables. A more traditional version might also include additional cuts of beef and pork, sausage links and a whole chicken.
Pot au Feu for Spring
1 fresh beef brisket (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
3 or 4 medium leeks, halved and well rinsed, with 4 inches of green tops intact
8 whole baby turnips OR
2 medium turnips, quartered
16 baby carrots OR
3 large carrots, peeled and quartered lengthwise
3 stalks celery, cut in 3-inch lengths (including leaves, chopped)
5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon each: whole cloves, whole allspice and dried thyme
1 large clove garlic, slivered
4 cups water
1 cup pearl or boiling onions
1/4 pound small whole button mushrooms
1 pound green beans, trimmed
Dijon mustard, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, and cornichons (small French pickles)
Place meat in a large pot (at least 8-quart size) with leeks, turnips, carrots, celery, parsley, salt, bay leaf, cloves, allspice, thyme, garlic and water. Bring slowly to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer about 3 hours.
Add onions and mushrooms and continue to simmer, covered, about 40 minutes longer, until meat is very tender. Add green beans and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Remove brisket and vegetables to a heatproof platter, and spoon on a little broth to keep them moist. Cover with foil and keep warm in a 250-degree oven.
Strain broth by pouring through a sieve to remove seasonings. Salt to taste and serve broth hot as a first course. Carve brisket across the grain in 1/4 -inch slices and serve surrounded by vegetables. Serves 6 to 8.
In Italian cooking, this and other tangy variations on braised beef and vegetables are known as brasato or braciato. Unlike a pot au feu, the beef for this dish is browned before being braised.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 blade or 7-bone beef roast (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), well trimmed
2 red onions, slivered
18 baby carrots, scrubbed and trimmed
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves and coarsely ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup canned beef broth
2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan or Dutch oven over medium heat.
Add meat and brown well on all sides; remove and reserve meat. Spoon off and discard all but about 2 tablespoons of the drippings. To the drippings add onions, carrots and celery; cook, stirring, until onions are lightly browned. Add garlic; set pan aside.
Sprinkle both sides of browned meat with a mixture of salt, cloves, pepper and thyme. Place meat atop vegetables in pan. Pour broth over meat; drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is very tender (2 1/2 to 3 hours).
Remove meat to a warm platter or board. Remove and discard bones, dividing meat into several large sections. Slice each section across the grain. Arrange vegetables around meat and keep warm until ready to serve.
Skim and discard fat from cooking liquid. Bring liquid to a boil, stirring, until liquid is reduced and slightly thickened; taste and add salt if needed. Sprinkle meat with chopped parsley; pour thickened cooking liquid into a small sauceboat or bowl and pass at the table. Serves 4 to 6.