Monday, January 2, 2012

Slow Cooking - Potée Auvergnate (French Pork Hotpot)

I had always loved soups and stews. I like anything that gives you warmth from inside. From bah kut teh to osso bucco, if it is served in a bowl, chances are I am going to love it. 3 weeks ago, a colleague of mine from work, decided to buy me lunch for giving him some tips on cooking and we went to a new French brasserie near our work place on Tras Street called "Brasserie Gavroche".

Place had really nice Parisian decor and the menu came in wooden framed panels that was really quaint. The menu was very interesting although what caught my eye was a dish call "Grandpa's Hot Pot" which listed cuts of pork as main ingredients. I ordered that and was very pleasantly surprised when it was served - in a heavy bottomed cast iron pot which you can scoop or pour its ingredients into a soup plate to eat from.


It had a small cut of pork belly, 3 ribs and half a farmer's sausage plus a few chunks of potatoes, cabbages and leek. The soup was clear and unclouded and it tasted refreshing! I mean most soups, especially meaty ones, taste like stews but this was almost like bah kut teh without the pepper and garlic. It was sweet and saltish from the salted meat used in the pot. I was hooked. I need the recipe!

I made some checks and no one around me can tell me the exact name. A couple of names were thrown up - "blanquette" and "pot de feu" which I later realize they are actually similar dishes but cooked with different types of meat - a blanquette is a stew of veal while a pot de feu is made with skirt cuts of beef. I finally chanced upon a travel log that had a picture very close to what I had, listed smoked pot belly as a main ingredient and they named it "Auvergne Hotpot". Further research along this line revealed the name I had been looking for all this time - "Potée Auvergnate".

Potée Auvergnate is a dish from Auvergne in France (duh) and it's main difference from stews/soups from other regions is that it uses only pork (salted or fresh) and bacon to season the soup. Of course, by getting the actual name of the dish, I was soon getting search results of thousands of recipes. The dish is actually very common in France and everyone seems to have their own recipe.

Now, in cases where I am getting multiple recipes, I usually aggregate them but I will bench mark it against a recipe from a trusted source. In this case, I used a recipe from one my favourite celebrity chefs, Raymond Blanc, although he called his "Pot de feu". Yes, I mentioned earlier that pot de feu is actually a hot pot made from cheap cuts of beef and yet M. Blanc's recipe contains both beef and pork. But I am using it because technique wise, it is the same as all potée auvergnate dishes around and I ended up adding a few small items not found in M. Blanc's original recipe, i.e. Japanese radish because that is the best kind you can easily get locally.


Potée Auvergnate (French Pork Hotpot)



Ingredients

4-500gm smoked shoulder of pork
4-500gm smoked belly of pork
300gm streaky bacon (uncut if possible)
500gm French garlic sausages (Cold Storage will sell them in 3s)
500gm spare ribs or softbones

2-300gm carrots (around 4 normal sized) - sliced
1 Japanese Daikon radish (around 300gm) - sliced
1/2 a large cabbage - cut into 4 wedges and core removed
2 large onions skinned and quartered
500gm potatoes quartered

4 cloves of garlic skin-on
30 pepper corns
bouquet garni of 5 bay leaves, 10gm of parsley and 4gm of thyme leaves


Method

1. Soak the smoked meat (NOT the bacon) over night in cold water to remove excess salt
2. Place all the meat except sausages in a large casserole pot and fill it will 3.5l of water (enough to cover)
3. Bring water to a boil and then let it continue boiling for 2 mins - during the 2 mins, it is important that you remove the impurities gathering on the surface of the water - it is also easiest to do after the water started boiling. If you remove excessive amount of water, top up the same amount in cold water.
4. Add the bouquet garni, pepper corns, garlic and bring down the temperature to a simmer (a few bubbles now and then) for 90 minutes - cover the pot and leave a small hole to let steam escape (if your cover does not already have a steam vent).
5. At the 80 minutes mark, bring a pot of salted water to boil and then blanch the cabbages for 3-4 minutes before removing them. After that, use the same water to blanch the potatoes until a knife goes through cleanly.
6. At the 90 minutes mark, skim off most of the fats you can see on the surface of the water. I suggest leaving around 30-40% behind to give the soup more taste. Then add in the sausages and all the vegetables EXCEPT potatoes and cook for another 30-40 mins more. If your pot is too small (my 28x28cm casserole pot was filled to the brim), you may remove the smoked shoulder and belly to make space.
7. Taste the soup and adjust if necessary before switching off the heat. If you haven't remove the smoked meat in the last step, do it now, slice them and put them back the top of the hot pot.

This dish is traditionally served directly in the casserole dish but you can add a restaurant touch by serving it in soup plates - giving a cup of soup and a bit every thing that makes up the whole hot pot. Serve up with bread and potatoes. This will serve 8 people.

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