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Today: Amanda shows us how to make a super-easy 2-course dinner classic -- start planning your party now!

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My friend Veronica is Italian, and her husband, Stefan, is French, which means it's impossible to have a bad meal in their house. This is one of many reasons we like to visit. A few weeks ago, they invited us for a weeknight dinner party (the gold standard of brave dinner party hosting, in my view; shows you're truly confident and relaxed), and Stefan cooked.

Except that he didn't look sweaty and tattered like I do when I cook. No, no. He wore a pressed dress shirt and joined everyone for cocktails, disappearing just at the very end to check on matters in the kitchen.

When dinner was ready, we were each served a bowl of golden broth with absolutely nothing in it -- the traditional first course of pot-au-feu. And it was intense brothy goodness. Next up came the beef and vegetables that had cooked in and flavored the broth. Having simmered for a long time, they were slouchy and plain looking, belying their deep flavor. Stefan served them with dishes of whole-grain mustard, cornichons, coarse salt, and baguettes. Lots of passing and dressing of plates ensued -- the perfect social dinner party food. And all of it was prepared a day in advance.

Afterward, we had apple tart, and that was it. A simple braise -- broth, meat and vegetables--and a classic dessert. No need for hors d'oeurves or sides. Low-maintenance pot-au-feu won me over.

When I made the pot-au-feu at home, I followed -- well, sort of -- Judy Rodger's recipe in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. She has you salt the short ribs a day in advance, and blanch them before braising, two steps I was tempted to skip. But don't: they're worth it, as the short ribs turn out well-seasoned and exceptionally silky. I messed around with the broth, adding star anise (avert your eyes, Stefan!) and swapping out rutabaga for potatoes (you're welcome!). Rodgers has you blend whole-grain mustard with a little of the cooking broth, some vinegar, and walnut oil, making more of a dressing for the beef and vegetables. The dressing's tang is lovely with the fatty short ribs, but you can also just serve the second course with plain mustard. She calls for cornichons; go with whatever pickles you like. Just don't start adding other condiments -- it's not a circus.


Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

Serves 4 to 6

4 pounds short ribs
3 quarts chicken or beef stock
2 small yellow onions, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
A few black peppercorns, barely cracked
1 whole star anise
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large carrots
2 medium leeks, light green and white parts quartered lengthwise
3 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium white turnips, peeled and quartered

Mustard Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon broth from pot-au-feu
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 to 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon walnut oil (optional)
Salt and freshly cracked ground pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom 

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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.


blanka.n August 5, 2013
This looks absolutely amazing. Can't wait for fall to make this - maybe even sooner.
BIG C. June 16, 2013
Delighted to stumble upon this recipe for Pot au feu. I don't cook but my husband does and he loves when I find great dishes to share. He is an adventurous cook who appreciates trying new things. Since we both love to entertain and often spontanously, this dish is a great reminder of how easy that can be. Thanks so much.

Rosana Santos Calambichis, President
Amanda H. June 16, 2013
Thanks for your note!
Jose April 4, 2013
Pot au feu is the French version of the Spanish dish COCIDO (or the other way around). In fact, COCIDO is the most popular dish of Madrid's traditional cuisine.
It is basically the same principle: you cook together vegetables, meat, and in our case chick peas. Then you eat first of all the soup (probably the most delicious outcome of this), and then a combination of the other products, seasoned with olive oil and vinegar or/and with a souce of tomato and cummin.
It is absolutely gorgeous in cold time.
Best regards and congratulations from a big fan living in Kenya
fhp April 4, 2013
Can you please tell me where I can find a good recipe for Cocido?
Jose April 4, 2013
I have done a quick search in the internet. This one might serve:
Every family usually introduces some changes: in my case, we don't like cabagge, so we use any other green vegetable (leeks, e.g.). And serve it in just two stages (soup, and then everything else).
The secret for a good COCIDO is, as usual, the quality of the ingredients and cooking each food category to the right point (i.e., do not overcook vegetables and peas, please).
You may find a lot of pictures in the web. Enjoy!
fhp April 4, 2013
Thanks Jose,
Reading the recipe I am reminded of the iconic Milanese dish Casoella without the garbanzos. I imagine that the Milanese learned this dish from the Spanish when they were in power. I live with a Roman who is definitely not a lover of cabbage and so like your family I think I will leave it out. Actually it is the garbanzos that attract me to this broth stew. My garbanzos have been soaking overnight and are now simmering away and I will have to decide what direction to go. One last thing, here in the USA I notice that the dried garbanzos are much smaller than the ones I used to buy in Italy. I wonder if we plant a different variety. I like the European ones much more. Thanks again.
Jose April 4, 2013
I will not forget your reference about Casoella, it's great.
Lunadalutti April 10, 2013
Hi Jose, here in Brazil we do the Portuguese version - "Cozido" - and then we add a touch that may have come from the indigenous tribes or the African slaves, I'm not sure: we thicken the broth with manioc flour to make "pirão", a flavorful and soft polenta-like dish. We use the pirão to accompany meat and vegetables. Since you're living in Africa, maybe you could try this out, using a very fine, white manioc flour. Cheers from Rio!
Jose April 11, 2013
Excellent advice, thanks a lot. Next time we prepare this dish, I will take apart some of the broth and add manioc flour. I see recipes and images in the web. Kind regards, Jose
fhp April 3, 2013
Simple Mainbocher
Quelle Chic!
Frank P. April 3, 2013
Horseradish, either grated or in a sauce is my family condiment for this kind of dinner.
Aimee P. April 3, 2013
@Lucytron : you can do a pot au feu with a whole chicken, it's called "poule au pot" - but my comment is that generally you never use potatoes in pot au feu, because they tend to disintegrate. Just leeks, turnips, carrots and an onion, and a piece of celery.
Pot au feu is the funnest dish to make, and so easy!
Jenny O. April 3, 2013
This looks like a wonderful idea - but I'm not a beef or pork eater.... Has anyone tried a variation on this concept using poultry or seafood?
Jim L. April 3, 2013
Nice. Will be doing this one!
Yessica April 3, 2013
This sounds lovely. A must try for me. It is a genius way of serving your traditional "meat and tatters". Yummm and thank you!
Brette W. March 30, 2013
My kind of dinner party!
AntoniaJames March 29, 2013
P.S. I'd probably use juniper berries instead. And I'd stir a small spoonful of doenjang in, either way.
AntoniaJames March 29, 2013
I do like your take on this (especially the vinegary mustard!!), but star anise is in my experience (having learned the hard way) a true "divider" food. People either like it or they really don't like it. Few are indifferent. I'd never include it when making this for a party. ;o)
Mei M. April 3, 2013
Good to know, thanks Antonia!
amysarah March 29, 2013
This looks like pretty much the perfect meal, from broth to tart. I want it. Now. (Also, love 'it's not a circus.' Applicable to so many things...I might just have to unconsciously appropriate it into my lingo.)
mtrelaun March 29, 2013
Hooray for pot-au-feu!
EmilyC March 29, 2013
Gosh, this menu is the mark of a confident cook. I'd never have thought to serve the broth as the first course, but how lovely.
laurenlocally March 29, 2013
EmilyC lovely indeed! I can't wait to add a broth course next time.