What Is Potjevleesch?

Dan Harkins

Literally meaning "pot of meat" in its native French Flemish tongue, potjevleesch is just that. A medley of meat is made from sheep, pigs, cows, rabbits and chickens, combined with onions in a crock pot and simmered in a mixture of wine, vinegar and some subtle seasonings like laurel and thyme. Once cooked, this medieval recipe is refrigerated until it cools into a congealed mass that is served cold with a hot side dish.

Mashed potatoes are often served with potjevleesch.
Mashed potatoes are often served with potjevleesch.

According to the recipe for potjevleesch provided online by Lille, France's city guide, the dish dates back to at least the 14th century when author William Tirel described the dish in a 1302 writing. That recipe doused all the meat, however, in a simmering bath of wine, juniper berries and the feet of calves. If made at the beginning of a long freezing winter, the dish could keep frozen for a few months or more.

French fries are often served with potjevleesch.
French fries are often served with potjevleesch.

The dish is still enjoyed in France and other areas of Central Europe. Chefs advised in 2001 that the meats be cut into both chunks and thin strips. Then, layers of each are alternated in the pot, separated by raw onion rings &emdash; including on the bottom, with some oil. After the pot is full, a mixture of wine, vinegar and some water is added to submerge it all, along with thyme, laurel, salt, pepper and bay leaves. It is cooked over low heat for as long as three hours to cool all the meat through. The liquid should not boil, just lightly bubble.

Before refrigeration was available, more care was needed to ensure the terra cotta potjevleesch was stored long enough to fully congeal but not so long that it rotted. The containers were covered after cooking and then placed in a cool dark place, usually underground. In a refrigerator, however, it should take about a half-day for the liquid to turn the contents of the pot into a solid and flavor-packed gelatinous mass.

The final product is broken apart and served as large multi-meat-encasing chunks. These are then later separated by the diner with a fork. Many chefs serve potjevleesch with a hot side dish like French fries or mashed potatoes and gravy. Another version replicates the preparation procedures; however, just one type of meat is used to give the dish more uniformity of flavor.

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