The Pot on the Fire

 

According to the famous chef, Raymond Blanc, Pot au Feu or Pot on the Fire, is the quintessential French family dish.

The honour and pleasure that I had tonight was to be treated like one of the family, when I had for the first time, home cooked Pot au Feu.

 

When I realised that I had broken my toe, it was the French Historian’s advice that I seeked.  It was he who gave me the emergency numbers to call, so that the ambulance could pick me up and also warned that the doctors were on strike.

 

 

Regularly checking on my progress, he not only invited me to a dinner at his family home but also offered to pick me up in his car and deliver me home safely afterwards.

 

Today, Paris took a large collective sigh of relief. 

The French Police swiftly, in a synchronized attack, took down the three gunman responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  Two hauled up in the outskirts of Paris and another in a kosher supermarket.

I was to learn later in the evening, that the shops, only 100 metres away from my apartment were ordered by the police to close down this afternoon.  Jewish shops in the Marais area, known as the Jewish quarter for fear of further attacks.

 

There was no need for the French Historian to drive all the way out to pick me up in Friday night traffic, some of the roads are still blocked and it may have made things difficult for him.  We agreed that he would meet me at the metro near his home.

I never walk far with the French Historian before he is pointing out items of interest to me, bringing my attention to things, I may miss and bestowing, always bestowing little history for good measure.

I want you to stop here he says, clearly there was something of significance to see. I do as I am told.  I want you to look up and see the finest home in the area.

 

Of course, this was his home and it was the finest in the street.  A warm burst of air and cooking smells was the first thing I encountered as we entered his delightful homely house.

The second was a warm and cheerful greeting from The Chef Extraordinaire, The French Historian’s father.

 

We had met briefly last year and he was as warm and kind, as I remembered him.

 

It was The Chef Extraordinaire that would be presenting the Pot au Feu to the table, not The French Historian and later I learned that this would be a good thing, unless we were to have scrambled eggs for dinner!

 

Some say that Pot au Feu harks back to the 11th century. Representing the round pot that was placed on the fire to cook the dish.

Maybe the elusive French Historian will come out of the woodwork and correct me on my vague knowledge of this classic French dish.

 

The dish consists of different cuts of meat of varying quality, root vegetables, oxtail, bone marrow and a selection of herbs and spices.

All the ingredients placed into one large pot and normally cooked for hours but sometimes all day. This gives a tasty combination of broth, meat and vegetables. 

 

With my coat and scarf whisked away and an invitation to sit in their charming lounge room to snack on olives and sausage, as we half watched the TV broadcasts and discussed the recent events of the massacre, seige and the police’s recent victory from only a couple of hours earlier.

 

Admiring their fantastic, semi commercial kitchen, I had a good sense that I was in for a treat and I wasn’t wrong.

 

If outsiders want to call the French arrogant, well, simply let it be but what I see; is a nation proud of who they are and their heritage without the fan fare of other countries.

Simple and stylish. Even down to a home cooked meal.

Understated elegance.

 

A simple green salad with roasted beetroot and word on their charming street, was that the French Historian had a hand in the dressing.

 

But it was the Pot au Feu that was the Pièce de résistance!

To be a guest in someone’s home, in a foreign country is a privilege and I know that I don’t invite all and sundry into my home, my private space.

For the hosts to speak a language other than their own, in their own home around their own dinner table, is more than polite.

Although I can hear the French Historian, sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, reminding me if they didn’t speak English, I wouldn’t have understood much of the conversation for the duration of the night!

 

Between the French Historian and The Chef Extraordinaire, they piled my plate high with three cuts of beef, and a choice selection of vegetables, it didn’t go unnoticed that I was given the best piece of leak on offer.

Now for the condiments and there is history behind this also, course salt, is a must, a selection of mustards and cornichons.

The apron clad Chef Extraordinaire, disappears into the kitchen and plonks a piece of toasted baguette on the side of my plate and his, and disappears again.

Assuming he is grabbing another piece of toast for his son but no, he returns with a plate of marrow.  The French Historian isn’t a fan and it is The Chef Extraordinaire and I who spread it on our toast, another Pot au Feu tradition, I learn.

Looking at the size of my meal, I suddenly realise that there is no way, I will get through all of this.  We take our time, The French Historian assures me, there is no rush.

Poking my fork into a piece of beef cheek had it falling apart on the plate, slipping it into my mouth was heaven!

Three hours of slow cooking and a good butcher is part of the secret.  The Chef Extraordinaire’s butcher and him are on a first name basis.

The tender, glutinous beef cheek slid down my throat like treacle. Oooh escaped from my mouth, this wasn’t a form of politeness, this was unabandoned joy.

Although it was the first time in their home, I felt unexplainably relaxed, as if it was a regular occurrence for me to share a meal around their table, in their warm inviting home.

 

Snapping a few pics, at the table, thoughtfully, The Chef Extraordinaire, being a photographer, adjusts the over head lighting for me.

 

Many years ago, in a cafe in Paris, I had Pot au Feu.  I couldn’t work out what the fuss was about. It resembled a watery stew that I dreaded when my grandmother would slap into a bowl and I still carry a small fear of stews until this day.

 

Clearly the cafe in Paris didn’t have the technique of The Chef Extraordinaire or the same friendly butcher!

 

A simple dessert of exotic fruits, mangoes, lychees, pineapple, passionfruit and more, was a refreshing end to a delicious meal.

 

Are you wondering if I got through that large plate of Pot au Feu? You betcha! I was grateful of the elasticized waist on my new skirt.

 

Declining a glass of Calvados, we sipped on more wine and chatted the night away and before I knew it, the night had ended too soon. I needed to catch the metro back into Paris.

Leaving a pile of dishes, in their fabulous kitchen to clean up, had me feeling slightly guilty.

The French Historian offered to walk me back to the metro station, we don’t want you getting lost or captured by terrorists he joked.

Saying my goodbyes to The Chef Extraordinaire, I wanted to wrap my arms around him and give him a warm long hug, but instead I grabbed the soft sleeves of his cashmere jumper and accepted a kiss to either cheek.

 

I had such a wonderful and relaxing night.

 

This was such a kind gesture, inviting me into their home and I am blessed to have a small yet very supporting group of Parisians, that I can call friends.

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