My Weekly Ritual: Japanese Pot Au Feu

I love rituals when it comes to food. Growing up, my mother made my favorite gyoza, Japanese-style pan-fried dumplings, every other Wednesdays for the family. I don’t think she really planned it that way and I’m sure she’s completely oblivious to this, but like Pavlov’s dog, my mouth salivated when a hump day rolled around every other week. There is something really comforting about knowing when and what I’m going to eat. I’m definitely not one of those spontaneous and adventurous diners who can decide their meal as they go. I would prefer to know exactly what I’m going to eat for dinner that night so that I can prepare my taste buds for it all day (and maybe study the menu if I’m dining out). Even when I work out with my personal trainer sister, I always need to know what we’re going to eat for lunch or dinner after the workout. That seems to be the only thing that keeps me motivated for a tortuous few hours.

Every horoscope and other Myers-Brigg-type personality tests all indicate that I’m a planner, and that’s a really accurate assumption. I always have a copy of driving direction whenever I’m traveling somewhere new (despite my Garmin in the car) and I’m already thinking about where to park once I get there, even before leaving the apartment. This is why I’m envious of those people who live life as they come (and not thinking about dinner all day). Oh, and by the way, I always read books backward (by reading the last several pages before I begin) and beat my boyfriend into telling me the end of movies before I watch them. That way, I can really sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey, whether it be a book or a movie. I just can’t stand the suspense! I’m strange, I know.

One of my and my boyfriend’s culinary rituals is to eat a roast chicken together every Friday. I have always romanticized about eating a roast chicken every week (or at least regularly), after watching one character, Dominique Bretodeau, do it in the movie, Amelie. I forgot whether he picked one up weekly at a local market or he roasted his own, but I remember how he found comfort and joy indulging in the ritual, and feeling that everything in life is going to be okay.

Every Friday, we celebrate the completion of a long work week by picking up a pre-made roast chicken at a local grocery store, where they have the Friday Special, offering small but whole chickens for only $5 each. We pick up deli salads, salsa, avocado (for me), and a loaf of freshly baked white bread, and enjoy the hassle-free meal over a glass of wine, in front of the television. It isn’t that the chicken is anything special (and chowing down a chicken while watching television is definitely not sexy) but there is something really special about doing the same thing over and over again, week after week, with a loved one.

Another ritual that comes out of this is my weekly Pot Au Feu feast that I enjoy throughout the week. I make the Japanese version of this French stew dish (traditionally made with beef) by first making the chicken stock from the leftover carcass, and throwing in vegetables like cabbage, onions, and carrots and cook them down until tender. The Japanese part comes in at the end when I add a little bit of miso paste and soy sauce for flavoring. It’s not quite miso soup and the Asian-aspect is very subtle but these two ingredients help deepen the rich soy flavor in the soup. Keep adding water and vegetables and you can enjoy this soup all week long, until Friday rolls around and we can do it all over again!

Japanese Pot Au Feu (Serves 4)

1 whole chicken carcass (or about 3 cups of chicken stock if not using bones plus enough water to fill the pot), plus leftover chicken
1/2 of whole cabbage, quartered
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 onions, peeled and halved
2 tablespoon miso (I used white miso)
A drizzle of soy sauce
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish
Tabasco to taste

In a pot full of water, boil the chicken carcass for about 3 hours.  Remove the bones from the soup.  When cooled, remove the meat off the bones and return to the pot. If you’re using pre-made chicken soup, simply bring the liquid to the boil and follow the next steps.

Toss in all vegetables in a medium heat and cook until tender.  You might need to remove the excess fat and scum that float to the top a several times.

Season by adding miso paste and soy sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour into a bowl, sprinkle chopped parsley and add a few drops of Tabasco if you like your soup spicy.

You can pretty much add any vegetable you have left over in the fridge.  I want to try mine with daikon radish and gobo (or burdock roots) next time.  You can take out the chicken and use it for other dishes, like enchiladas or chicken salad.