Ficelle is French for string and in this case the string does not come as flavouring or even garnish. The dish’s title indicates the cooking method, for the steaks are suspended in simmering stock by means of a piece of string. It is closely related to pot au feu and bollito misto, where the meat is poached rather than grilled, broiled or fried, but with one major difference: instead of long, slow cooking of gelatinous joints, the dish calls for a prime cut – fillet steak or short loin. The result should be rare or medium-rare, like any other good steak preparation.
Bring the stock to the boil. Meanwhile, peel and scrape the vegetables. Drop the potatoes into the boiling stock; the remaining vegetables may be bundled in string for cooking or dropped in loose as with the potatoes. Do not add salt.
Add the remaining vegetables in the order in which they take to cook: carrots first, then celery, and finally leeks. Around the same time as you add the celery, tie some kitchen string round each piece of steak and drop them into the simmering stock.
Mix together a relish: I use a mixture of grated horseradish, wholegrain mustard, lemon juice and a little cream. Any mustard, or creamed horseradish, will do just as well.
Lift out the steaks. If you are unsure how cooked they are, cut them in half and look. You can always put them back in the stock for a few minutes. Lift out the vegetables too and arrange both meat and vegetables in large bowls or deep plates.
Pour over some stock and serve with the relish. As with pot au feu, the cooking liquor is drunk first and the meat and vegetables are eaten afterwards: two courses in one dish.
© 2000 Shaun Hill. All rights reserved.