Serious Eats: Recipes

French in a Flash: Boeuf aux Carottes

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

It was a hot summer night in Paris when Mr. English came down from London to keep me a bit of company, and I led him by the hand across the Pont Neuf from my apartment to my favorite little pocket of Paris: Place Dauphine. A petite triangle tucked behind a fold in the tip of the Île de la Cité, it boasts a restaurant with my favorite sort of French food: heavy, in that thatched roof, pot-au-feu peasant way (not to be confused with the decadent, creamy, one-forkful-per-plate way).

The fading nighttime summer sunlight pushed past the wide-cast platane leaves, tracing light-and-shadow doilies over the earthen ground over which tinkling pétanque balls clattered in the dusk. I ordered duck confit, off of which I promptly began picking of the salty, crispy skin—my French crackling. Mr. English ordered boeuf aux carottes. The waitress lifted the black lid off of the beef's cast iron pot, and there beneath in the darkness lurked what simply looked like beef and carrots: unassuming and unimpressive.

But oh, the alchemy of the kitchen! Bits of least-expensive meat and dusted off carrots sat and simmered into this tender stew whose greatest accolade was its unexpected sweetness. The carrots had leached their sugar into the broth and into the meat that collapsed at the nudge of a fork, and it was suddenly as sumptuous as the great pillared hall which presides over the square. After a day of brunoise, dauphinoise, and all the other -oises I didn't want to think about, I greedily snatched up bite after bite of his boeuf aux carottes, chiming how this is the French food I adored, and marveling at a cuisine that could turn the lead of sinewy beef and humble carrots into carrot-copper gold.

This dish may not classify at first glance as "in a Flash," as it cooks for three hours. In fact, French police interrogators are nicknamed, so I've been told, "boeuf carottes" because they take so long in questioning their suspects. But I find immense primitive satisfaction at browning bits of short rib to a crust in hot oil in a deep enamel pot and methodically slicing carrots into coins. The short ribs are not traditional, and you could certainly substitute stew meat, but I adore the stringy softness of short ribs so much that I use them anywhere I can.

At the end of it, you have the same slightly sweet, voluptuous stew that falls off the bone and has the undeniable trick-the-diet bonus of highly visible vegetables. It's a classic, discovered in summer, perfect for the dead of this icy winter.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.


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