Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String)

French Friday’s with Dorie

Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String)

My favorite ingredient for this French Friday’s with Dorie Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String) dish was not the delicious and tender grass-fed specimen of filet mignon I paid a small fortune for. Nor was it the organically grown rainbow carrots with their timely anti-Russian homophobia political messaging that purchased at a local farmer’s market. Nor was it the somewhat freaking looking oxtail that I had to ask our butcher about twice before he would get one in stock for me to cut up and boil away in a sublime stock. And surprisingly, it wasn’t even the celeriac, a vegetable flavor that never fails to take me back to one sexy and somewhat debauched summer memory of mine.

My favorite ingredient in this one was the kitchen twine. 

I purchased my big ball of kitchen twine about 8 years ago at a Smart and Final when I needed string for a craft project I was working on and it quickly became what I consider one of the most important “must have” kitchen tools every home cook should have in their kitchens. Kitchen twine should be made of 100% cotton and not have any colorings or coatings. In a cooking world full of crazy electronic gadgetry and industrial machinery redesigned for home use you might think cooking twine is too retro or unexciting a tool.

You would be wrong. I keep my ball-o-twine out in the garage but I hustle out for it frequently whenever I need to tie up roasts or truss chickens for roasting or need to tie bundles of herbs together for simmering in stews calling for a bouquet garni. I need it for tying up roulades, attaching chic looking tags to jam and jelly jars, and yes, I have been known to wrap up baked goods in parchment and twine before giving them away to friends.

“oooh! How chic!”

It works every time. So go and get some string. Its cheap and it will serve you well for a long, long time. And you’ll need it to make this dish.

Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String)

Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String)

You can’t make Boeuf à la Ficelle without string. That wouldn’t make much sense anyway would it? You could cook it without tying it up but then your filet might not cook evenly and you’d have to fish it out with a wooden spoon or kitchen tongs when it was done.

You couldn’t impress your friends by telling them you were serving them Boeuf a la Ficelle if you fished it out with kitchen tongs could you? Trussing up meats to hold their shape is pretty much cooking 101 stuff but here you add a long loop before finishing to give yourself something to fish the filet out of the poaching broth.

Yes, I said poaching.

This idea might take awhile to wrap your brain around but if you think about, it this style of cooking beef filet makes a sense. The filet is a very lean and very delicate but its flavor is is very subtle. If you are a meat lover this method of cooking filet will let you actually taste its beefy goodness. I will never order filet in restaurants or steak houses as they tend to over cook it and then slather it in salty sauces. Why even bother with such an expensive cut of beef if you are just going to cover it in whatever sauce the chef decides to throw over it?

Here the beef isn’t overshadowed by sauce and its supporting players and couldn’t be easier to make.

Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String)

Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String)

Yield: 6 servings

Boeuf à la Ficelle (Beef on a String)

I like to use shallow soup plates for this dish and arrange them in the kitchen. Carve the beef so the slices are 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and put a slice or two in each plate. Add the vegetables and ladle a little hot broth either around the meat or, for those who like their meat more well done, over it. Bring the plates to the table and let your guests season their servings to taste with fleur de sel, Dijon and grainy mustard, horseradish, and pepper from the mill.

This is what you will need:

    For the bouillon
  • 5 parsley sprigs
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 celery stalks with leaves
  • 2 tablespoons mild oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
  • 3 big veal or marrow bones
  • 1 oxtail
  • 2 big onions, unpeeled, halved
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • About 5 quarts water
  • 3 leeks, dark green parts only (reserve the white and light green parts), washed
  • 2 carrots, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
  • 1 garlic head, only the loose papery peel removed, halved horizontally
  • 1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and halved
  • 1 star anise (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • For the vegetables and beef
  • 6 small potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • 6 small turnips, trimmed, peeled, and halved
  • 6 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut crosswise into thirds
  • 1 pound celery root, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 2-inch cubes
  • Reserved white and light green parts of the 3 leeks, split lengthwise, washed, and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 6 shallots, peeled and halved
  • 1 1-1/2-pound beef tenderloin roast, all fat removed, tied with twine (leave a long tail of string), at room temperature
  • For serving
  • Fleur de sel or other sea salt
  • Dijon and grainy mustard, preferably French
  • Horseradish, preferably grated fresh
  • A peppermill filled with black peppercorns

This is how you make it:

    To make the bouillon:
  1. Gather together the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves, tuck them between the celery stalks, and tie up the bundle with kitchen string.
  2. Put a large soup pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. Drop in the bones, oxtail, and onions (if you can get everything in without crowding the pot, go for it; if not, do this in batches), sprinkle over the sugar, and brown the bones and onions, stirring as needed. When all the ingredients are as deeply browned as you can get them -- even blackened -- transfer to a bowl, and pour out and discard the fat.
  3. Put the pot back over medium heat and, standing away, pour a cup or two of water into the pot. Using a wooden or metal spoon, scrape up all the goop that formed on the bottom of the pot, a satisfying job, since you get all the color and flavor from the sticky bits and the scraping does a good job of cleaning the pot too. Pour in 4-1/2 quarts water and toss in all the remaining ingredients, including the celery bundle, bones, oxtail, and onions. Bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that bubbles to the top, then lower the heat to a simmer, and cook the bouillon, uncovered, skimming often, for 1 hour.
  4. Strain the bouillon into a bowl and discard the solids -- they've done their job. (The bouillon can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Once the bouillon is cooled, skim off any fat -- it will have floated to the top.)
  5. To cook the vegetables and beef: Return the bouillon to the pot and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the potatoes, turnips, carrots, and celery root. After 10 minutes, add the leeks and shallots and cook for 10 minutes more. Check that the vegetables are cooked and, when they are tender, using a slotted spoon, lift them out of the bouillon and into a large bowl. Cover and set aside while you poach the beef. (The vegetables can be cooked a few hours ahead, moistened with a little bouillon, covered, and refrigerated until you're ready for them.)
  6. Drop the beef into the simmering bouillon, keeping the string out of the broth (you can tie it to the pot's handle) and poach for 15 minutes -- it will be very rare in the center. Pull the beef from the pot using the string; transfer it to a plate, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. (If you want the beef more well done, you can poach it longer or, better yet, pour some of the hot broth over it at serving time.)
  7. Meanwhile, reheat the vegetables in the bouillon. Cut the beef into slices about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. For each portion, put a slice or two of beef in the center of a shallow soup plate, surround it with some poached vegetables, and moisten with bouillon. Have fleur de sel, Dijon and grainy mustard, horseradish, and a peppermill on the table so your guests can season their own dishes.


The broth here is a revelation and if you follow the recipe you will be left with quite a lot of done after your meal is completed. Don’t throw it away! Pack it up and freeze it to make all manner of soups and treats with whatever leftover you have available. For an easy work night meal I took a quart of leftover broth, simmered it with some peeled ginger root and light splash of soy sauce and made up some ‘leftover pho’ by adding rice noodles and some thinly sliced leftover boeuf and cilantro.


This Boeuf à la Ficelle dish was an assignment for French Friday’s with Dorie, a cooking group working its way through Dorie Greenspan’s culinary tome “Around My French Table”. We generally avoid including the recipes in our posts. However, wherever there has been a significant adaptation by me or where the recipe has already been publicly posted by Ms. Greenspan or her publishers or by hundreds of other bloggers, or it is, in fact, not much of a recipe at all but rather a methode, I will either include it here (adapted) or provide a direct link to it. Please feel free to contact me via the link provided on my page if you need any assistance finding a French Friday with Dorie Recipe. You should buy the book though.

It will change your life as it has mine.

About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. Looks good Trevor, and I love the color you achieved with your broth – it must be full of beef-y goodness!

  2. I really need to catch up on my ffwD recipes, especially on this one. Yours turned out great!

  3. I need to take a class in beef-tying, because mine was a hot mess. I love the bowl you put your meal in!

  4. I think I like your leftover recipe as much or more than the original! Gorgeous x 2.

  5. Since I don’t like to trek to the garage for anything, my string stays in the knife drawer. One never knows when one might need knives and twine at the same time, you know…

    I am with Liz – the leftover faux Pho sounds very appealing.

  6. I keep my twine in the kitchen drawer but I love to use it. Your dish looks so appealing. I agree with you about covering tenderloin with salty sauces. It’s just nuts.

  7. Damn, man! I misread the title as ‘Beef on a shoestring.’ As in — shoestring budget. Still, this looks too divine not to try. I will buy the filet with my credit card (since it has only a 29% APR). Hopefully, I’ve not maxed it out again shopping on QVC.

  8. LOVE the leftovers Trevor! And hey, I made this completely sans ficelle 😉

  9. I wouldn’t have expected you to say that the twine was the best bit, but you are right, it is useful stuff. And it is vital to get the right twine so you don’t end up with blue soup a la Bridget Jones. Your beef looks terrific, and I agree, this was delicious (even though I cheated on the broth by using ready made stock).

  10. I haven’t made this one yet, but I am really looking forward to it. Seeing your delicious rendition has my mouth watering! I absolutely plan on saving my leftover broth and I have to say your leftover pho looks fabulous.

  11. You can also tie your hair back with it… GREG

  12. Trevor, looks good! I ordered my chic kitchen twine decades ago from a pricey catalog. I don’t recall how much string is on there, but it appears to be an endless supply!

  13. But, if you plate in the kitchen, how will everyone know that you did, in fact, use string? Shouldn’t you serve it with open hands and . . . strings attached?

  14. Oh Trevor, this is really a beautiful article. Of course, your salt cellar
    guy caught my eye too. And then there is the china that I adore. How
    beautiful it is.

    Pretty funny about the oxtail too. I can believe it was a little difficult
    to find. Oxtail is not something we see in every butcher’s case.

    I’m with you on the twine too. Really useful. Most excellent.
    Terrifically impressive. I have to keep mine (also purchased at Smart &
    Final) put away in a closed cabinet. My cat Julius, AKA “Mr. String
    Theory” has the keenest ears for twine twirling. When ever I pull off a
    bit, Julius, in all his Maine Coon glory, comes running thinking it is time
    for some “string theory ” play. So I always budget in extra time and cut
    off a piece of twine to play with Julius. Cat owners. We can never say no
    to them, can we?

  15. Wow, this looks fantastic!!! I remember Lynne Rosetto Kasper describing this dish once, in that sultry way she describes things, and I thinking to myself, “Damn, that sounds good.” Poaching does seem like a strange choice at first for beef, but the process totally makes sense. Well done Trevor!

  16. Your beef looks wonderful and what a gorgeous bowl up there! I lost my kitchen twine someplace and had to buy a small package but there is not very much in it, so will have to buy some soon. I can’t imagine where it went! I agree about the both. It was incredibly good. What a fabulous leftover “pho” that must have been. This was one of those meals that I’ve made again and can see it recurring frequently.

  17. (Forgive my spelling! *Broth!* Bleary eyed!)