In America, we have pot roast (of beef), corned beef and cabbage, or New England boiled dinner, for example. In coastal North Carolina and elsewhere, we used to love boiled shrimp, and Virginia has made a specialty out of boiled peanuts.
In France, there's la poule au pot (boiled chicken with vegetables), le pot au feu (boiled beef with vegetables), la blanquette de veau (boiled veal served in a cream sauce), and la potée (boiled pork and sausages with vegetables) in different styles from several regions.
Now I don't know much about English cooking, never having spent more than a month in England altogether in several separate trips, but in France boiling foods — meats or vegetables — is called cooking them "in the English manner" — « la cuisson à l'anglaise ». I don't know where the term comes from. Two English friends have told me that they don't cook meats, at least, in such a way in England. They roast them — I'm talking about leg of lamb, for example.
I've looked at recipes in the Larousse Gastronomique, Escoffier's Guide Culinaire (I have an American edition, in English), and several other cookbooks, including Ginette Mathiot's Je Sais Cuisiner. All these have, for example, a recipe for Gigot à l'anglaise — boiled, or poached, leg of lamb (or mutton).
The difference between gigot à l'anglaise and boiled dinners like the ones I mentioned above is that a leg of lamb cooked "English-style" is not really boiled but, but carefully poached. It's not cooked until it's well done, but finished and served rare — « saignant » in French, meaning that the meat still has blood, a.k.a meat juices, in it when you cut into it.
The Larousse quotes the great 19th-century French chef Carême as saying: « Ce que les Anglais apprécient le plus, c'est que le jus sorte du gigot lorsqu'ils portent le couteau dedans. » —"What the English like the most is for the lamb to be juicy when they cut into it."
Here's a translation of the recipe for Gigot à l'anglaise from the book titled Recettes d'une grand'mère, by a woman named Renée de Grossouvre (1988). It's not very different from the ones in the Larousse Gastronomique or Escoffier's cookbook.
Gigot à l'anglaiseThe author says to prepare cream sauce with capers, to be served burning hot at the table with the lamb. Carve the roast on a platter, not on a board, so that you can collect all the blood (which has become a concentrated jus) that comes out of the meat as you slice it. Place the slices of lamb on a warm platter and spoon the meat juices over all, and serve the hot caper sauce on the side.
Leg of lamb poached English-style
For those who love rare meat, this is an excellent way to cook lamb.
Choose a leg of young mutton, with very white fat, and round and short in shape (elongated legs are not as good). Insert three slivers of garlic into the shank end. Put some water on to boil and salt it generously with coarse sea salt. Put in enough water so that the leg of lamb will be completely submerged.
With some fine, tightly woven muslin, wrap the leg and sew it up in the cloth, pulling it tight. Then plunge it into the pot of water, which should be at a rolling boil, keeping the pot on high heat until the water comes back to the boil after being cooled down by the roast. You of course must know the exact weight of the leg and look at the time right when you put the lamb in, so that you can let it cook for 15 minutes per pound and no longer.
This recipe is among the best, and lamb cooked this way is very nutritious.
The translation of Escoffier's book into American English calls the dish "boiled leg of mutton English-style," but as I said, it is really just poached. His recipe calls for cooking carrots, onions, garlic cloves, and herbs in the pot with the leg of lamb. And he says to serve the "boiled" lamb with a purée of, for example, turnips, white beans, celery root, or potatoes, cooked separately or in the lamb broth.
A similar way of boiling or poaching beef — fine, tender cuts like filet de bœuf, not stew beef as in the homey pot au feu — is called « bœuf à la ficelle » — beef on a string. The roast is suspended in boiling water, hanging by a string during the cooking process. It is normally served rare or medium rare. Our friend Martine has written about that way of preparing beef on her blog, Wishing I Were in France. Here's a link to her post.
When vegetables are cooked in boiling water — potatoes or green beans, for example — they are also called « à l'anglaise », and the recipe almost always says to serve the vegetables with butter, melted or not, that is brought to the table separately. The vegetables, unlike the lamb, are boiled until they are well done — or whatever degree of cooking that means for specific vegetables and individual tastes.
The Larousse Gastronomique says of « pommes de terre à l'anglaise » that you should peel the potatoes as neatly as possible and cook them in salted boiling water, or steam them. "In England," it says, however, "these potatoes are cooked in unsalted water." The Larousse also describes « haricots verts à l'anglaise » as green beans cooked in salted water, drained, dried in a towel, and then served with butter melted over the warm beans at the last minute.
I think the French cooks and chefs who give these recipes admire the simplicity of what they call « la cuisson à l'anglaise », which calls for very fresh vegetables and meats cooked carefully and served with fresh butter or simple sauces. It's an elegant way of preparing and serving food.
But it may also have led to the French stereotype according to which English food is usually boiled to death and overly bland. I never found it to be that way when I went to England.
I do plan to cook a gigot à l'anglaise the next time I buy a leg of lamb.