Some of the best meals I’ve ever had with Claude, our extensive restaurant-going aside, have been at his apartment on the avenue Gambetta, with Pepita doing the cooking. One of her best dishes—a French classic now difficult to find in Parisian restaurants, much less in the United States—is boeuf à la mode. This is her recipe, and it is very French, complete with larding for the beef (you’ll need a larding needle), a calf’s foot in the sauce for texture, and not one but two instances of flambéeing. There are plenty of good all-American recipes for pot roast, braised beef, and the like that don’t demand larding, flaming, or the inclusion of animal paws, and readers who find these details too intimidating or distasteful are invited to consult such simpler formulae. But a recipe without these elements would not be Pepita’s, and would not be half as good.
Anyway, the French attitude, to which I heartily subscribe, is that while there’s nothing wrong with eating simply, when you do choose to cook a serious dish, you ought to cook it correctly—and worry about your calories and cholesterol another time. (Leftovers from this dish are excellent cold, incidentally, especially when encased in the delicious gelatin that the calf’s foot will yield.)
With a larding needle, lard roast lengthwise, inserting one long piece of suet or lard (or two shorter ones, one after the other in the same incision) in the middle of the roast and arranging the other four (or eight) pieces around it evenly. Melt butter in a deep roasting pan large enough to hold roast with 3 to 4 inches around it, then brown the roast slowly on all sides. (This should take 15 to 20 minutes.)
Meanwhile, place calf’s foot in a large pot with cold water to cover, bring to a boil, and continue boiling for about 10 minutes.
When beef is well browned, add salt and pepper to taste, flambé half the cognac over it, then sprinkle flour on top. Add wine to the roasting pan to just over half the height of the beef, adding water if necessary to attain that level. Flambé remaining cognac over beef. Add calf’s foot, carrots, large and small onions, bouquet garni, garlic, orange peel, and chili pepper to liquid, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, lightly covered, for 2 hours. Baste beef frequently with pan liquid, and turn it over after 1 hour.
Remove beef and calf s foot and allow both to rest for about 5 minutes. Slice beef across the grain in 1” to 1½” slices and arrange on a serving dish that will hold liquid. Add calf’s foot and surround beef with carrots and small onions. Strain all the liquid over the meat, discarding the solids. Serve with coarse salt and good mustard.
© 1992 Colman Andrews. All rights reserved.