Boeuf à la Ficelle (BUHF ah la feeCELL)

Boeuf à la ficelle is a traditional French technique for cooking beef tenderloin. It is called à la ficelle because the meat is tied with string (ficelle) and lowered into simmering beef stock, which sears in the juices and adds flavor. In the classic method, the ends of the string are tied to the handles of the pot so that the meat is suspended in the broth. As this requires a special pot and is awkward to accomplish, I have worked out an alternative method with excellent results.

This method also works well with beef rib eye, which is more flavorful but higher in fat and not as buttery-tender. As a special treat, I sometimes coordinate this recipe with my making of Glace de Viande and poach the beef in it before the final concentration–a fine benefit to both the beef and the glace!

I like to serve the beef with a variety of steamed fresh baby vegetables such as beets, turnips, carrots, snowpeas, new potatoes or sugar snaps. The baby vegetables are especially delicious and sweet in summer. They can be precooked early in the day and warmed before serving. A zippy simple cold horseradish sauce is my favorite accompaniment for both the beef and vegetables.

This is a menu specially tailored to please Dad for Father’s Day. It is at once unfussy, elegant and hearty.

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Internal temperature (middle): 110°F.
room temperature volume ounces/pounds grams/kilograms
homemade beef stock or canned (preferably College Inn) 3 quarts (7 14.5-ounce cans) 101.5 ounces 2 kilograms, 878 grams
1 medium onion, quartered but unpeeled 6 ounces 170 grams
2 medium carrots, scraped 5.25 ounces 150 grams
celery tops with leaves, coarsely sliced ½ cup 1 ounce 28 grams
1 bay leaf
fresh thyme* a few sprigs
1 12-inch -long beef tenderloin or rib eye roast, trimmed of fat and tied at 2-inch intervals 3 to pounds 1 kilogram, 360 grams to 1 kilogram, 475 grams

*Or ½ teaspoon dried thyme.

Leave a long piece of string at either end to lift roast into and out of the broth.


In the poacher or pot, combine all the ingredients except the beef and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered.

Add the roast, dangling the ends of the string over the side of the pot, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is 110°F. when an instant-read thermometer is inserted into the center of the beef. Remove from the broth. Allow it to sit for 10 to 20 minutes. The temperature will rise to 115°F. At this temperature, the roast will be very rare throughout. (If you prefer medium rare, bring it to 115°F., and it will rise to 120°F.)

The beef is excellent while still warm but equally delicious at room temperature.

NOTE: The poaching liquid can be reduced to about 1 cup and frozen indefinitely for reuse. If you use canned broth, however, it will be very salty so use only a small amount if adding to grain dishes and sauces.