Beef on a string or “Boeuf a la ficelle”
Tonight I cooked a meal which my other half declared the best meal I had ever cooked, and one of my children gave it a nine out of ten. The other rated it three out of ten but he was just being smart.
This recipe is basically a very dense vegetable broth, with a beautifully cooked piece of fillet and then aromatic stock poured over the top. It has a French title and this is no coincidence – it tastes very French-peasant…simple and very easy to make, with just the right amount of ‘show-off’ opportunity if you had guests over to dine and they hung around in the kitchen to chat.
I found it a little odd buying a nice, and costly, piece of beef fillet and then poaching it. Boiling it just doesn’t sound sophisticated enough for that fine cut of meat but that’s pretty much what you do.
- 500 g of beef fillet – you want to try and get the middle piece so it is uniform in girth the length of the cut
- 1 litre of beef stock
- 1 swede cut into batons
- 2 carrots cut into batons
- 1 large celery stalk cut into batons
- 2 large potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
- 1/4 of a cabbage chopped and sliced
- 4 spring onions cut lengthways and left in long lengths
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- parsley sprigs
- thyme sprigs or a bouquet garni
- salt and black pepper
Cut the beef into four equal slices. Tie a piece of butcher twine around each piece leaving a long piece available for tying around the handle of a wooden spoon.
Pour the stock into a saucepan. The saucepan should not be too wide or the depth of the stock will be too shallow to suspend the meat in. Bring the stock to the boil and add all the pre-prepared vegetables and the herbs. Cook over a medium heat until the vegetables are tender. I added the cabbage halfway through to maintain some crunch, otherwise the cabbage will be cooking too long and will look like cabbage your mother might have cooked 30 years ago. Once the vegetables are done remove them from the stock with a slotted spoon. Keep them warm in tinfoil after liberally seasoning with ground black pepper.
Season the beef with salt then lower them into the simmering stock. Keep the strings tied to the handle of a wooden spoon or to the pot handle. What you want to try and minimise is the meat having any contact with the bottom or sides of the pan. Cook over a low to medium heat (6 minutes = rare, and ten minutes = medium rare).
Remove the beef from the stock. Remove the string. Lay down a bed of the warming vegetables. Place one portion of the beef on top then ladle the stock over the beef and through the vegetables. Don’t drown everything – this is not a soup!
Serve and enjoy.
I have read other recipes of this dish and many suggest suspending the whole fillet into the stock then slicing into portions after. Cooking time will vary with this method but I’m sure the taste and experience is just as good.