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Petite Marmite

A marmite is a covered crock, usually made of earthenware, designed to hold a soup or a stew that will be baked. “Petite marmite” has come to mean an intense, clear soup based on a consomme, with beef and vegetables. The best of these have an amazing flavor, and are at their best when infused with a good shot of black pepper. I love this one. It’s no little project to make it (in fact, it’s so ambitious that cooking schools give this to chefs as a test of their skills). But the results are wonderful, and after you’ve done it you’ve really accomplished something elegant.

  • Stock Stage:
  • 6 lbs. oxtails
  • 1 large onion, cut up
  • 2 ribs celery, cut up
  • 1 carrot, cut up
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. marjoram
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • Consomme Stage:
  • 1 lb. ground round, chilled
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 eggshells, well broken
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco
  • Soup Stage:
  • 4 small carrots, sliced into thin sticks
  • 4 small potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 ribs celery, cut into thin sticks
  • Salt and pepper

1. In a large kettle over high heat, brown the oxtails until rather dark. Add the onion, celery, carrots, bay leaf, thyme, marjoram, and peppercorns, along with a gallon of water (or more if necessary to cover). Bring the pot to a low boil. Cook for two hours (or longer if possible). Skim the fat and scum from the surface as it cooks.

2. Strain the stock. Remove the oxtails and reserve. Discard the vegetables. Set the strained stock aside to cool. (You can do this a day or two ahead, and refrigerate the stock. It should congeal into a jelly, with any remaining fat easily removable from the surface.)

3. When you’re ready to go to the consomme stage, rinse the stockpot and put the stock back into it over medium heat.

4. While waiting for the stock to boil, combine the ground round, the chopped carrot, onion, and celery. Flatten it out into a sort of gigantic hamburger patty. Float this on top of the stock. (It might sink, but the boiling will make it rise.) Pour the egg white over this raft, and break the eggshells atop that.

5. When the pot comes barely to a boil, punch a few holes in the raft so that the stock bubbles up and over the raft. Keep the stock at a very light boil for about two hours, punching the raft down every now and then. Add the salt and Tabasco in there somewhere.

6. While waiting, pick the lean meat from the oxtails and make small bundles of it, tied with a thin green onion or a chive. Set aside.

7. Remove the raft and anything else floating in the stock, which should now be clear or close to it. Carefully skim the fat from the top of the pot. Strain the soup through a very fine sieve or (better) double cheesecloth.

8. About a half hour before serving, bring the consomme to a simmer. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook until tender. Ten minutes after adding the carrots and potatoes, add the celery. Add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

9. Place a bundle or two of the oxtail meat on a soup plate and ladle the broth with its vegetables around it.

Serves eight to twelve.

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