Food & dining

Pot au feu one night, gratin of beef the next

Pot au feu.
Sally Pasley Vargas for The Boston Globe
Pot au feu.

In this cherished cold-weather French dish, beef shanks are simmered in stock for a few hours until they are very tender, producing a clear broth. Don’t be deceived by the plain looks. One sip of the richly flavored liquid dispels any notion that a dinner of gently boiled meat and root vegetables might be bland or boring. You need a large, deep soup pot. Blanch the beef for a few minutes before cooking it in stock, skimming often to remove impurities that cloud the broth. Arrange the sliced meat and vegetables in shallow bowls, ladle the broth over them, and serve with coarse salt, mustard, and small pickles.

More comfort is on the way the second time around in a layered dish of sliced beef and vegetables topped with homemade bread crumbs. This is winter family supper at its most nourishing.

Shopping list

(For pot au feu, gratin)


6 (1- to 1½-inch-thick)
cross-cut beef shanks
(about 6 pounds)

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2 tablespoons butter

2 medium leeks

2 onions

8 carrots


1 large celery root

1 large rutabaga

8 small Yukon Gold or
Yellow Finn potatoes

½ bunch fresh parsley

3 sprigs fresh thyme


1 cup cornichons or other
sour pickles

1 dense country bread

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 quarts chicken stock

2 bay leaves

3 whole peppercorns

4 teaspoons flour

½ cup horseradish mustard

Sally Vargas can be reached at