Monday, October 22, 2012

My favorite French dish

Apologies for the crummy photo. I'll take another next time!
From the first time she made it, I have adored my wife’s coq au vin – not that I don’t adore other things about her, too! Making it plays to her strengths, too. She’s great with “stew-like objects” where she can prep everything, put it all together and then step back. Ala minute cooking is not her forte.

This is provincial French cooking at its best. To be really faithful, you need a rooster, but that can be tough unless you know a farmer who raises poultry. Since this fowl will be on the elderly side, it needs slow cooking at a low temperature for a long period to come out tender. While that’s admirable (and well worth the effort of finding a stewing hen), most people don’t want to bother with that. I’ve done it, and it is fantastic, especially what the slow braising does to the sauce using my cast iron Dutch oven. The recipe given here is for using a good-size roasting chicken.

For me, the whole peppercorns make this dish with a bit of very nice heat when you bite into one. Vicki and one of our sons generally pony up with most of their peppercorns, which I don’t mind at all. We’re also blessed with our home-smoked bacon, which adds another whole layer of flavor.

Julia Child made this dish famous in the US, but our recipe is a bit easier and quicker to put together. Vicki generally takes the skin off the chicken pieces these days which keeps a good deal of extra fat out of the sauce, but it’s also not quite as tasty, in my opinion. A good suggesting might be to keep the skin on some of the pieces like the legs, wings and maybe one of the thighs.

It’s important to brown the chicken well. This also adds a lot of flavor. Once you’ve dismembered the chicken, wash it thoroughly and get it thoroughly dry so it browns well. If the two breasts are on the large side, I suggest cutting them in half. They’re easier to manage on the plate and if you have a hearty eater at table, he or she can just have both halves.

We’ve been serving spelt pasta with this lately and it stands up well to the rich sauce. You won’t need as much, either, because it’s more filling. Try it. Any Italian grocer will have it, as well as health food stores or supermarkets with a health food section.

One other thing: as with most stews, this is always better reheated. Keep that in mind for your next dinner party, although you want to be careful with overcooking it.

Bon appetit!

Coq au vin
Serves 4-6

1 3 lb chicken cut into pieces or chicken parts, skinned if you want
3 Tbs olive oil
¼ lb thick-sliced smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch lardons
1 cup onions, chopped
½ cup carrots, grated
2 tsp garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbs all purpose flour
2 Tbs fresh parsley, minced
2 Tbs fresh chervil, minced or 2 tsp dried chervil
3 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 Tbs fresh thyme, minced or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbs black peppercorns
¾ tsp salt
1½ cups full-bodied red wine (burgundy is traditional)
1½ cups mushrooms, sliced
2 cups baby carrots

1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Have all ingredients at room temperature. In a heavy pot such as a Dutch oven, sauté the bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over low heat until the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add the onions, grated carrots and garlic to the fat, sauté over medium heat for 3 minutes. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3. Add the rest of the olive oil, and sauté the chicken pieces until they are lightly browned on all sides, taking care not to crowd them. Remove them from the pot and set aside. Drain any remaining fat from the pan and discard.

4. Return the vegetables to the pot, add the flour, parsley, chervil, salt and peppercorns. Sauté for 1 minute over medium heat, stirring frequently.

5. Add 1 cup of wine, stir well. Reduce the heat to low. Tuck the bay leaves into the mixture. Arrange the chicken parts on top of the vegetables, pour the remaining wine on top of the chicken. Cover tightly. Place in the oven.

6. After 30 minutes, stir everything thoroughly, making sure the chicken pieces are turned over in the sauce, then add the baby carrots to the pot.

7. Fifteen minutes later, add the sliced mushrooms and the bacon pieces to the pot, stirring them in as best as possible. Add more wine if necessary or it’s gotten too thick. Cook 15 minutes longer.

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