Boeuf à la Ficelle

Boiled Beef on a String

This is an old-fashioned French dish, but has much to recommend it today, requiring the best-quality produce to be cooked as simply and in as healthy a fashion as possible. Of course, what you serve with it might change all that. I have a jar of ‘hot horseradish mustard’, which I like to mix with unsalted butter or cream to serve with the beef, and Fay Maschler, in her excellent book, Eating In, recommends horseradish ice cream, made by whipping double cream with grated horseradish and a squeeze of lemon juice and freezing it. Properly cooked, the beef should be underdone. Choose a tender piece of beef of roasting or grilling quality.


  • 2 lb / 900 g piece of rump or sirloin
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1–2 carrots, peeled and cut into batons
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 turnip, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

To Serve

  • watercress
  • mustard
  • horseradish sauce
  • gherkins
  • coarse sea salt


For this, you need a large saucepan or stockpot. Trim any fat from the meat and tie the meat parcel-fashion into a neat shape with sufficient string to suspend the meat either from the pan handles or from a wooden spoon laid across the top of the pan. The meat should not touch the bottom of the pan. Test this before you start to cook. Push a clove into each quarter of onion, and put in the pan with all the other vegetables, the seasonings and bay leaf, and enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a full rolling boil, and put in the meat. The water will immediately go off the boil, but bring it back to boiling before turning the heat down to the gentlest simmer to allow the meat to poach for about 30 minutes (15 minutes per 1 lb / 455 g). Have a hot serving dish ready and all the accompaniments. Transfer the meat to the dish, slice and serve.

About half-way through the cooking time, boil separately a selection of baby vegetables to serve with the meat if you wish. The vegetables cooked with the meat will probably be too soft.