Last week I made a dish from my childhood: Pot au feu. I grew up eating the French boiled beef dinner with my parents on wintry days. (Yes, we had cold days in Southern California!) It was effortless for my mother to simmer the beef and vegetables in the afternoon and then present it for supper, the beef and vegetables on a platter and the golden broth in separate bowls. We’d eat the meal with salt and pepper, making individual piles of it to dip the vegetables and beef in. The pot au feu was always warming and satisfying.
The Vietnamese approach to pot au feu tends to be rather simple. In my 1975 copy of From Julia Child’s Kitchen, the pot au feu recipe called for roasting the beef bones and aromatic vegetables to generate a good color to the broth. In the 1940s Vietnamese classic cookbook, Lam Bep Gioi, Mrs. Van Dai suggested charring the onion (like for pho noodle soup) and adding caramel sauce (nuoc mau) to the pot au feu to create a rich color; she translated pot au feu as sup thit bo, which literally means beef soup. Vietnamese cooks didn’t have large ovens to brown their beef and vegetables so they made due. Like the original French version, Mrs. Van Dai's pot au feu had plenty of vegetables to go along with the beef. (And if you're wondering, the connection between French pot au feu and Vietnamese pho is tenuous at best.)