This soup, or broth, as we should perhaps designate it in England, is made once or twice in the week, in every family of respectability in France; and by the poorer classes as often as their means will enable them to substitute it for the vegetable or maigre soups, on which they are more commonly obliged to subsist. It is served usually on the first day, with slices of untoasted bread soaked in it; on the second, it is generally varied with vermicelli, rice, or semoulina. The ingredients are, of course, often otherwise proportioned than as we have given them, and more or less meat is allowed, according to the taste or circumstances of the persons for whom the bouillon is prepared; but the process of making it is always the same, and is thus described (rather learnedly) by one of the most skilful cooks in Europe: "The stock or soup-pot of the French artizan," says Monsieur Caremê, "supplies his principal nourishment; and it is thus managed by his wife, who, without the slightest knowledge of chemistry, conducts the process in a truly scientific manner.
She first lays the meat into her earthen stock-pot, and pours cold water to it in the proportion of about two quarts to three pounds of the beef;* she then places it by the side of the fire, where it slowly becomes hot; and as it does so, the heat enlarges the fibre of the meat, dissolves the gelatinous substances which it contains, allows the albumen (or the muscular part which produces the scum) to disengage itself, and rise to the surface, and the ozmazome (which is the most savoury part of the meat) to be diffused through the broth. Thus, from the simple circumstance of boiling it in the gentlest manner, a relishing and nutri tious soup will be obtained, and a dish of tender and palatable meat, but if the pot be placed and kept over a quick fire, the albumen will coagulate, harden the meat, prevent the water from penetrating it, and the osmazome from disengaging itself; the result will be a broth without flavour or goodness, and a tough, dry bit of meat."
It must be observed in addition, that as the meat of which the bouillon is made, is almost invariably sent to table, a part of the rump, the mouse-buttock, or the leg-of-mutton piece of beef, should be selected for it; and the simmering should be continued only until this is perfectly tender. When the object is simply to make good, pure-flavoured beef broth, part of the shin, or leg, with a pound or two of the neck, will best answer the purpose. When the bouilli (that is to say, the beef which is boiled in the soup) is to be served, bind it into a good shape, add to it a calf's foot, if easily procurable, as this much improves the quality of the bouillon; pour cold water to it in the proportion mentioned above, and proceed as Monsieur Carême directs, to heat the soup slowly by the side of the fire; remove carefully the head of scum, which will gather on the surface, before the boiling commences, and continue the skimming at intervals, for about twenty minutes longer, pouring in once or twice a little cold water.
Next, add salt in the proportion of two ounces to the gallon; this will cause a little more scum to rise, - clear it quite off, and throw in three or four turnips, as many carrots, half a head of celery, four or five young leeks, an onion stuck with six or eight cloves, a large half tea-spoonful of pepper-corns, and a bunch of savoury herbs. Let the whole stew very softly, without ceasing, from four hours and a half to six hours, according to the quantity: the beef in that time will be extremely tender, but not over done. It will be excellent eating, if properly managed, and might often, we think, be substituted with great advantage for the hard, half-boiled, salted beef, so often seen at an English table. It should be served with a couple of cabbages, which have been first boiled in the usual way, then pressed very dry, and stewed for about ten minutes in a little of the broth, and seasoned with pepper and salt. The other vegetables from the bouillon may be laid round it or not, at choice. The soup, if served on the same day, must be strained, well cleared from fat, and sent to table with fried or toasted bread, unless the continental mode of putting slices or crusts of untoasted bread into the tureen, and soaking them for ten minutes in a ladleful or two of the bouillon, be, from custom, preferred.
French Pot-au-Feu; or, Earthen Soup-Pol.
* This is a large proportion of meat for the family of a French artizan; a pound to the quart would be nearer the reality: but it is not the refuse-meat which would be purchased by persons of the same rank in England for making broth.
Beef, 8 to 9 lbs.; water, 6 quarts; salt, 3 ozs. (more if needed); carrots, 4 to 6; turnips, 4 or 5; celery, one small head; leeks, 4 to 6; one onion, stuck with 6 cloves; pepper-corns, one small tea-spoonful; large bunch of savoury herbs: (calf's foot, if convenient) to simmer five to six hours.
This broth forms in France the foundation of all richer soups and gravies. Poured on fresh meat (a portion of which should be veal), instead of water, it makes at once an excellent consommée, or strong jellied stock. If properly managed, it is very clear and pale and with an additional weight of beef, and some spoonsful of glaze, may easily be converted into an amber-coloured gravy-soup, suited to modern taste.
It is a common practice abroad to boil poultry, pigeons, and even game in the pot-au-feu, or soup-pot. They should be properly trussed, stewed in the broth just long enough to render them tender, and served immediately, when ready, with a good sauce. A small ham, if well soaked, washed exceedingly clean, and freed entirely from any rusty, or blackened parts, laid with the beef when the water is first added to it, and boiled from three hours and a half to four hours, in the bouillon, is very superior in flavour to those cooked in water only, and infinitely improves the soup, which cannot, however, so well be eaten, until the following day, when all the fat can easily be taken from it: it would, of course, require no salt.