Boeuf à la Ficelle – Beef on a String
Reprinted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, with the author’s permission.
For the bouillon
5 parsley sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 celery stalks with leaves
2 tablespoons mild oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
3 big veal bones or beef marrow bones
2 big onions, unpeeled, halved
¼ teaspoon sugar
About 5 quarts water
3 leeks, dark green parts only (reserve the white and light green parts), washed
2 carrots, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
1 garlic head, only the loose papery peel removed, halved horizontally
1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and halved
1 star anise (optional)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon coarse salt
For the vegetables and beef
6 small potatoes, scrubbed and halved
6 small turnips, trimmed, peeled, and halved
6 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut crosswise into thirds
1 pound celery root, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 2-inch cubes
Reserved white and green parts of the 3 leeks, split lengthwise, washed, and cut into 2-inch lengths
6 shallots, peeled and halved
1 1-1/2 pound beef tenderloin roast, all fat removed, tied with twine (leave a long tail of string), at room temperature
Fleur de sel or other sea salt
Dijon and grainy mustard, preferably French
Horseradish, preferably grated fresh
A peppermill filled with black peppercorns
To make the bouillon: Gather together the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves, tuck them between the celery stalks, and tie up the bundle with kitchen string.
Put a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil. Drop in the bones, oxtail, and onions (if you can get everything in without crowding the pot, go for it; if not, do this in batches), sprinkle over the sugar, and brown the bones and onions, stirring as needed. When all the ingredients are as deeply browned as you can get them – even a little blackened – transfer to a bowl and pour out and discard the fat.
Put the pot back over medium heat and, standing away, pour a cup or two of water into the pot. Using a wooden or metal spoon, scrape up all the goop that formed on the bottom of the pot, a satisfying job, since you get all the color and flavor from the sticky bits and the scraping does a good job of cleaning the pot too. Pour in the 4-1/2 quarts of water and toss in all the remaining ingredients, including the celery bundle, bones, oxtail, and onions. Bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that bubbles to the top, the lower the heat to a simmer, and cook the bouillon, uncovered, skimming often, for 1 hour.
Strain the bouillon into a bowl and discard the solids – they’ve done their job. (The bouillon can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Once the bouillon is cooled, skim off any fat – it will have floated to the top.)
To cook the vegetables and meat: Return the bouillon to the pot and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the potatoes, turnips, carrots, and celery root. After 10 minutes, add the leeks and shallots and cook for 10 minutes more. Check that the vegetables are cooked and, when they are tender, using a slotted spoon, lift them out of the bouillon and into a large bowl. Cover and set aside while you poach the beef. (The vegetables can be cooked a few hours ahead, moistened with a little bouillon, covered, and refrigerated until you’re ready for them.)
Drop the beef into the simmering bouillon, keeping the string out of the broth (you can tie it to the pot’s handle) and poach for 15 minutes – it will be very rare in the center. Pull the beef from the pot using the string, transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. (If you want the beef more well done, you can poach it longer or, better yet, pour some of the hot broth over it at serving time.)
Meanwhile, reheat the vegetables in the bouillon. Cut the beef into slices about ¼ to ½ inch thick. For each portion, put a slice or two of beef in the center of a shallow soup plate, surround it with some poached vegetables, and moisten with bouillon. Have fleur de sel, Dijon and grainy mustard, horseradish, and a peppermill on the table so your guests can season their own dishes.