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Serious French Cottage Pie

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Hachis Parmentier is French confort food at its best - slowly prepared over 3 days. Spend 3 minutes to see how it's done.

Pharmacist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813) spent his life campaigning to have potatoes officially declared edible, and then to convince his countrymen to make it a staple on their table. One of his many publicity stunts included offering bunches of potato flowers to the King and hosting dinners with Benjamin Franklin centered around the potato. As famine struck in 1785, Parmentier won and the French started eating potatoes for good.

The most popular dish named after Parmentier, is hâchis Parmentier, a French cottage pie usually associated with school messes, but let me tell you that I take my Parmentier seriously and won't mess it up.

The meat and potatoes of this dish is pulled braised oxtail with mashed potatoes.

First, buy your oxtail. Then cut it with your largest knife ...

... into manageable segments. They need to fit in a shallow dish where you will marinate the meat.

Add a couple peeled and sliced carrots, a few garlic cloves, peppercorns, a bay leaf, a few peeled and sliced onions, a bunch of parsley and a clean leak slived lengthwise. Pour a bottle of strong, glass-breaking red wine...

... until the oxtail drowns in it. Cover with foil and leave in the fridge to marinate for 2 days. The meat will turn red.

The day you cook this, prepare two cast iron pots, a bowl and a skimmer.

Remove the solid ingredients from the marinade and place them into your empty bowl.

Filter the marinade and pour into a pot to warm it up. notice how half submerged carrots now look like half beetroots.

Heat a little oil in a large cast iron pot and place the oxtail slices in the pot. Sauté over high heat, turning from time to time until the meat is browned all over. The purpose is to create browned meat flavor by using Maillard's reaction, another French pharmacist. We don't try to 'seal the juices in' or other nonsense - just increase the flavor before the long simmer.

When the meat is ready, add the onions, garlic cloves and carrots into the pot.

Your red wine marinade must be hot now - you need to heat it up. Don't be lazy and pour it ice-cold over the dish or you'll ruin everything. In one majestic gesture, let the marinade fall into the hot pot in a crimson cascade. I did this with my camera in the other hand - the things I do for my readers!

Slice the leek ...

... and add to the pot with the parsley.

Bring to a strong boil, cover and reduce heat to the lowest setting. Simmer for 2 hours.

After two hours, our liquid has reduced and the formerly tough oxtail, the scourge of the flies, is now as soft as pudding.

Start pulling the flesh off with a fork. Important: make sure you only use the muscle meat and leave the fat and gelatinous bits on the bone, they are not so pleasant under the tooth.

Filter out any remaining solid ingredients from the cooking liquid (the liquid formerly known as 'the marinade'). Bring this liquid to a boil once more to reduce it to about half a cup...

...then combine with the pulled meat and keep warm. Who would have thought I'd have you pull an oxtail?

Let's prepare the potatoes. Clean one kilogram (2 pounds) of starchy potatoes, and boil them with their skins on ...

... then pass them under cold water until cool enough to handle and peel.

Mash the potatoes the old fashioned way - no mixer please. If you are a food-loving masochist you can push them through a fine sieve, that's the way Joël Robuchon does, or at least that's the ordeal his underlings go through.

Add a drop of cream and the largest piece of butter you can find...

... and mix until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Grease an ovenproof dish and put to rest half the mashed potatoes in a flat layer. Cover with the braised meat...

... then add the second layer of mashed potatoes.

Sprinkle some grated Gruyère or another oven-friendly cheese ...

... and garnish with little bits of butter to obtain a nice crust.

Bake in a hot oven until the top is browned and crispy, 10-30 minutes. The purpose is to heat the dish through and give the top its nice browned flavor.

I served this on earthenware plates from Moustiers Ste Marie, a lovely French village where tiny artisan shops have been making earthenware plates since Parmentier's times. If you look closely at my plate, it has the trademark potato flower design found in all Moustier earthenware. Or at least that's what the tradition says, explaining its presence on all Moustiers products by the King-Potato-Parmentier triad. You don't see these often in school messes.

Cut like a lasagna ...

... and serve. A great dish for large families and for the gourmet with an eye for history!

Convincing your guests to eat oxtail may be a bit of a hot potato, so just mention it's 'beef'.



As always, this dish looks both delicious and beautiful. Now all I'll be thinking about for the next couple of hours is food.

But I do believe you are hiding a secret ingredient from us. On the picture with the sliced leek and the parsley, you seem to have some other herb too. Looks like it has slightly wooden stalks--thyme/oreganum?
  • #2
  • Comment by marilia
  • #3
  • Comment by MacH
That looks fantastic!
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Yes, it's a good dish!
  • #5
  • Answered by fx
Daniel, you have bionic eyes! Yes a twig of oregano was there indeed! But you can use many other herbs, they are simmered so long that it's unlikely any specific herb except hemlock would throw the flavors off balance.
What a great job, FX! to prepare "hachis parmentier" that way, specialy made. I only do parmentier when I cook a "pot au feu" using more meat than necessary. Of course I join an oxtail... The broth is absolutely savory and I do "two in one".
Instead of cheese, I use butter on the top, only butter.
Congratulations for your cooking stove.
  • #7
  • Comment by Gemma
WOW! I don't know how you do it but you managed to blew me away with every post of yours!! Love it~

Just out of curiousity though, do you eat such gastronomical meal everyday? :)
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Gemma, thanks. Yes, pretty much every day, although these dishes can last for a couple days. This week I had pesto soup for 3 nights for instance. If you bring it back to a minutes-spent-cooking-per-portion it's not so long!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Gamelle, sounds like a great way to recycle delicious pot-au-feu leftovers!
  • #10
  • Comment by bitrboy
Oxtail braised in red wine is one of my favourite dishes, and I make it quite regularly.  I noticed that you didn't skim the fat from the cooking liquid.  Since oxtail is very fatty, does this not leave the finished dish a bit greasy, or is the fat offset by the starchiness of the potatoes?  Great post.
  • #11
  • Comment by Richard
Hi Francois,

Another one for my list! Superb article (as we have come to expect). Keep them coming and we'll keep cooking them!

Oxtail is on my shopping list for tomorrow morning.

All the best

  • #12
  • Comment by Gary V
This looks so good.  I'd like to attempt it myself, yet it seems so time consuming.  
Hallo Francois,

perfect recipy for my wine-tastings!  

How much oxtail did you use?

Nice week-end,
P.S.   One critical aspect of this terrific recipy seems to me the cheese. Is it not too much flavor for the oxtail, Francois?
  • #15
  • Comment by Ckfusionist
Ah , all those cheese , cream , butter explains the cholesterol bill...hahaha. The local Aussies eat an average 14kg of cheese per year , so i guess it would be averaging the same with Euro  ??
Fat and gelatinous bits unpleasant under the tooth? Bosh! I just polished off some braised oxtails and so long as you eat those bits hot (that is, uncongealed), they're quite pleasant. Keeps you warm in winter, too.
That looks devine!
Potatoes are one of my favorites. Do you think you could use another cut of meat though? Not sure if I could find a whole oxtail around here. I know I've seen ox tail cut up at the butcher, that would work, no?
Nice post Francois, it's woderfull this parmentier. Good confort food for the winter.Love it.
  • #19
  • Comment by Dean Gilliland
Looks alot like another comfort food from farther north usually reffered to as Shepard's Pie.
  • #20
  • Comment by jensenly
Holy cow!  I have heard that ox tail is amazing and your recipe and photos have now convinced me that it's true!

Are school messes the same thing as a school cafeteria in the US?

I think I could eat this every week.....you are divine, Francois!
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
Jensenly, yes oxtail is a respectable part of the ox, very edible in fact! In French we call the places were kids eat at school a refectoire, I thought this would translate as school mess but it sounds very much like a school cafeteria. The main point is to serve unhealthy food badly prepared although there are notable exceptions fortunately.
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
Dean, yes indeed it's a French cousin of the Shepherd's Pie but prepared the French way.
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
Cris thanks for your visit, this year winter seems to be every other day up here in the Alps, time for confort food!
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
Laura you can have the oxtail cut, no worry, or use other braising-grade beef. Many people use pot-au-feu leftovers (stewed meet with vegetables) to good effect.
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
Ben, I must have found couch-potato ox with a very fat tail!
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
CKfusionist, we Swiss certainly like our cheese, but you can just sprinkle the surface with bits of butter and you'll get a nice brown crust just the same.
  • #27
  • Answered by fx
Berlinkitchen, the cheese is nice and given the small amount really doesn't hide the oxtail's braised flavors which are quite strong anyway.
  • #28
  • Answered by fx
BerlinKitchen, I only used one oxtail.
  • #29
  • Answered by fx
Gary, it's not that long. Preparing the marinade takes 10 minutes, then braising. The potato purée takes some time, but most of the recipe is spent waiting as it cooks.
  • #30
  • Answered by fx
Richard good luck with the Parmentier!
  • #31
  • Answered by fx
Bitrboy, indeed you could skim the fat off the top for a leaner dish, but with the amount of potatoes it worked well.
Thank you Francois for your reply. How much is one oxtail? 2 kg??
In Berlin they sell only pieces.
  • #33
  • Comment by Rosedarpam
Only my second visit to your website and find myself entranced once again.  Oxtails are one of my many favorites.  This recipe is so elegantly simple, yet I can tell by its careful preparation that it must be wonderful.  The supermarkets in Honolulu only have cut oxtails, but if I go to Chinatown, I'm sure I can convince the butcher to supply a whole one.
  • #34
  • Answered by fx
Rosedarpam, thanks for your kind words! You could use other meats as well but a cut oxtail is just perfect, I used the whole thing because I could and it looks more dramatic, but hey, it doesn't even fit in my fridge, let alone in a bowl for marination!
  • #35
  • Comment by Michael
Love the post - love the knive you cut the oxtail with. I can't recognize its brand on the photo, could you give me a hint?
Every image you capture of each step of the dish preparation captures more than one could ever imagine. Upon the revelation of the finished product, I'm awestruck. It's amazing how something so simple as Cottage Pie can be beheld as a masterpiece.

As peculiar as this may sound, I think I actually may want to cry at how gorgeous everything appears. I'm so happy I've stumbled upon your blog; definitely going to experiment and test out some of your fantastic and unique recipes - I'm always trying to find ways of making the common quite the contrary.
  • #37
  • Comment by Janet
Fx what a wonderful recipe! I enjoyed every minute of the cooking process. There is nothing like being at work and knowing that at home the dish is quietly evolving and gathering its flavours. On the night of 'the simmering' I could hardly wait to get home and begin! Thank you for all the fun.   
  • #38
  • Answered by fx
Janet, I am so glad you got around to try this long-simmered dish and even thought about it during the day! Well done!
  • #39
  • Answered by fx
Manda, thanks for your kind words! Many times too I have tears come to my eyes when looking at a still life, and a few times this happens when looking at my own pictures. Then I know we have, for a moment, managed to show the miracle of life in a rectangular frame.
  • #40
  • Answered by fx
Michael, you'll learn everything about this knife in my article: Paris Oldest Kitchen Equipment Shop.
...the things I do for my readers - that is why we keep coming back and we know that the pot was really heavy and having to balance and focus the camera in the other hand - you are a master indeed!
  • #42
  • Comment by Laura D.
Looks fabulous.  I love oxtails, though I have to admit that since mad cow disease has surfaced, I am more hesitant to eat them (you know, brain and spinal cord tissue--sorry to be a crepe-hanger).  In U.S. stores, I've only ever seen cut up oxtail, though when I worked as a cook, the restaurant sometimes got whole ones from the meat wholesalers--when we forgot to ask to have them cut.

One question though--why waxy potatoes?  I have always used starchy/mealy potatoes for mashing and was under the impression that the texture is better (lighter, mealier, not so dense).  Have I been wrong all these years?
  • #43
  • Answered by fx
Laura, thanks for visiting my site! The oxtail simmers for so long that even the most resistant prions might not survive, although you do raise a valid point and we might check with some health scientist to be certain. As for the type of potatoes, be calm, the problem rests not with your cooking skills but with my English! I have now corrected the recipe to "starchy".
I like it,I actually may want to cry at how gorgeous everything appears and definitely going to experiment and test out some of your fantastic and unique recipes.
  • #45
  • Answered by fx
Toaster ovens, thanks for visiting and I hope you'll get to try a couple of my recipes!
  • #46
  • Comment by Xavier
Hi fx !

What a better dish than a "Hachis Parmentier" for a confortable dinner with a bunch of friends. I'm planning to prepare one next week and was wondering how much oxtail I would need for 10 guests. It's hard to assess how much muscle you can extract from an oxtail.
And do you have any advice for a good butcher in the Lausanne area who could have great oxtail ?

Thanks again for your fantastic site and articles !
  • FX's answer→ Xavier, I wish you success with your hachis! For the butcher just don't go to Globus, my experience is that meat is expensive and not always fresh there. Not sure whom to recommend, I don't buy my meat in Lausanne...

  • #48
  • Comment by jorge Moctezuma
Looks just delicious! Congratulations!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks and hope you can try this with some Mexican beef!

  • #50
  • Comment by Marc
Impressed! Would never have thought about using the oxtail. Great idea! They are readily available here (Spain) as it´s a national dish (rabo de toro)

One question, I have always made Hachis Parmentier with breadcrumbs and butter on top and not cheese. Am I completely wrong? Cheese is more commonly used?
  • FX's answer→ Marc, there are loads of variations of this dish, it was made to use leftovers of stewed or roasted meats and you can perfectly use butter and breadcrumbs instead of cheese. The spirit of this dish is to make something new and tasty from what you have in the fridge.

Great recipe! I have to try it at home!

By the way, the knife you used to cut the meat... Isn't it meant to cut salmon? :)
  • FX's answer→ Indeed it is, read article 7 to see where and how I bought this knife!

Wow awesome food for the winter! Probably put a toll on my cholesterol but it would be worth it. I also love cheese, and a meal like this would be great with a nice bottle of shiraz classic.
  • #55
  • Comment by anamaria
Amazing dish!!! Love the oxtail (my granny used to make an amazing soup from it and I loved to eat the fat and gummy stuff - taste like marrow a little - another great thing!!!!)
No more recipes lately?
  • #56
  • Comment by Baldo
Una contundente y buena receta invernal, en España el rabo de toro se consume sólo, con unas patatas fritas de acompañamiento, cocinado con vino tinto, o blanco (en Córdoba, donde es famoso se usa vino de Montilla-Moriles). Y queda espectacular, cocinándolo como en su receta, con más caldo y haciendo después un arroz, según la receta de arroz caldoso española (de grano redondo, tipo bomba o carnaroli, arbóreo o baldo). Un saludo
  • FX's answer→ Gracias

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