Sunday, June 10, 2012

Friday Dinner: Coq Au Vin - Chicken Stew, to You

In the days of Yore (you know "Yore", it was before your parents' parents were born), when your rooster was too old to chase the hens, you cooked it. Old roosters make for a difficult chew so roasting was out of the question. Tough meat = braise, so maybe you dumped the dregs of your wine barrel (depending on where you lived, the wine might be white or red), some onions and mushrooms (or celeraic or carrots) cooked in the rendered lard of a hunk of salt pork into the pot and cooked Monsieur le Rooster (a 'coq') having been separated into his component parts, until the meat was edible and, "mon Dieu!", you have a sauce. Serve some chicken with a ladle of sauce on top, break off a hunk of bread to sop up the sauce and you have a tasty, filling meal.

One of the first published recipes for coq au vin was in Edmond Richardin's, "La Cuisine Française: L'art du Bien Manger" where he calls for mushrooms AND truffles, in 1906. I'd wager that as long as there has been wine, folks have used it to cook a hearty meat stew, using whatever vegetables were handy to extend the dish as well as for flavor. The preparation for coq au vin is similar to boeuf bourguignon. To thicken a stew, if flour wasn't in your pantry, you used blood from the former Monsieur le Rooster, at the end of cooking.

Nigel Slater wrote, "I once worked in a restaurant that, at the time, was considered to be the best in the land. At least several of the guides thought so. The chef patron had learned to make this dish in France, he understood its roots. We made coq au vin every week (believe me when I say that this is one of those dishes that improves, rather than deteriorates, after a few days in the fridge). I have never made it better than I did under his beady eye, but then we made it with the dregs of the glasses and bottles from the customers' tables. So whether it was the quality of the local birds, the excellent wines or that soupçon of saliva from each glass that made the difference I will never know."

Modern recipes can be tortured and time consuming. We have made it previously, using Julia Child's recipe - actually two recipes: one a "master" recipe for a ragout of chicken and onions in red wine, and the recipe for coq au vin. Not too long ago, we tried the version from America's Test Kitchen, "Modern Coq au Vin" and it was delicious.  The ATK recipe takes less time, but for us, it provided all of the flavor components from a traditional rendition and suits another Nigel Slater quote, "The sort of good-natured food that will fit in with us rather than us having to plan our day around it; the sort to eat off plain white plates on a paper tablecloth. The sort whose juices you mop up with bread and a plain, garlic-scented salad. In other words, a sound recipe that makes all the right noises." Mr. Slater's Coq au Vin recipe can be found here and if I ever run across an old rooster, that's the one I'll use.

We served our coq au vin with a spinach salad with raisin bread croutons, egg, toasted pecans, red onion and avocado and a red wine vinaigrette. Oh yeah, and bacon.
from: America's Test Kitchen, "Modern Coq au Vin"
Serves 4-6

We used a Pinot Noir but a Cote du Rhone or a Rhône Valley Grenache will work well in this recipe.The ATK recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken thighs but we found that boneless, skinless chicken breasts work just fine. This time we used both. We also used frozen pearl onions. I always have problems finding frozen pearl onions and when I do I buy several bags. We served ours over campanelle noodles, but mashed potatoes, smashed, roasted small or new potatoes or polenta would work just as well. If you do serve with noodles, have a baguette (or bread) slice on hand to mop up any left-over juice on your plate.

  • 1 bottle red wine (see recipe head notes), reserving 1 tablespoon for later use
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or hearty stock
  • 10 sprigs fresh parsley leaves and stems + 4 tablespoons minced parsley leaves.
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 ounces bacon, thick-cut and cut crosswise into 1/4" pieces
  • 2.5 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken pieces, whole.
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 24 frozen pearl onions, thawed, drained and dried.
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed and quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

Remove the chicken pieces from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you start your preparation and lay them on a tray.
In a 2-quart saucepan add the wine (save 1 tablespoon for later use), chicken broth, parsley, thyme and bay to a simmer over medium-high heat and simmer until reduced to 3 cups and remove  and discard the herbs.

In a heavy-bottom dutch oven (5 quarts or larger), heat on medium for several minutes and add the bacon pieces. cook until browned. Transfer the bacon pieces using a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off the bacon fat and reserve two tablespoons in a bowl but leave the fond (browned bits) from the cooked bacon on the bottom surface.

Pat each of the chicken pieces with a paper towel to dry them off and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add back 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat to the dutch oven and adjust the heat to medium-high until it's just smoking. Add one-half of the chicken pieces (don't crowd the pan) and cook on each side until lightly browned. This takes about 2-minutes per side. You're not looking for an overall browning - that will cook the chicken pieces too much. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate and add the second reserved tablespoon of bacon fat to the pot. Cook the second batch and remove to the plate.

Add three tablespoons butter in the empty dutch oven. When the foaming has subsided, add the pearl onions and mushroom to the pan. Stir once to coat and then stir every couple of minute until they are lightly browned - somewhere up to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds while stirring. Add the tomato paste and flour together. Stir this along with the mushrooms and onions until well combined, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the reduced wine mixture and, using a wooden spoon or paddle, scrape the bottom of the  pot until it feels smooth. Return the chicken pieces, any accumulated juices and the cooked bacon pieces to the dutch oven. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover the pot so that the mixture is simmering. Cook for 10 minutes and turn the chicken pieces, if they are not completely submerged. Check the chicken after 20 minutes. Thighs and breasts are cooked when the internal temperature is 165. When done, remove the chicken pieces to a large platter or bowl and tent loosely with foil.

Bring the sauce in the uncovered dutch oven to high until it boils, decrease until the liquid is at a strong simmer and reduce until the mixture is thick and glossy - about 3 cups.Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining two tablespoons of chilled butter, one tablespoon at a time and then add the 1 tablespoon of reserved wine and 2 tablespoons of the minced parsley and stir to incorporate. Taste and season with additional salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Set the heat on the lowest possible heat and return the chicken pieces to the pot to re-warm. Serve immediately and garnish each serving with additional minced parsley.

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