Saturday, March 29, 2014

Coq au Vin

Plate of Coq Au Vin with Parsley garnish
Classic Coq Au Vin

Recipe Adapted from French: Delicious Classic Cuisine Made Easy

My mom used to make chicken with wine, and for years I’ve wondered how similar her recipe was to the classic French coq au vin. I’d never felt brave enough to venture into the French cooking world until my friend Lynn graced me with French: Delicious Classic Cuisine Made Easy last Christmas. Even with the simplification, this dish is much more complicated than Mom’s chicken, and it tastes quite different. After a frenzy of cooking activities, a slow simmer adds the real magic. Slow cooking is key to the chicken’s melt-in-the-mouth tenderness as well as its wine and mushroom flavor permeation. This is the richest “simply braised chicken” imaginable.

Closeup of Chicken, Mushrooms, and Onions in Coq Au Vin
Few Ingredients, Rich Taste
Note that this dish requires almost a full bottle of wine—not even glass for the chef left over. Which kinds of wine are best? My cookbook states that dry red wine is traditional, but some regions prefer white—in Alsace, Riesling is favored. My chef-wine connoisseur-mathematician friend Betty suggested a young fruity red wine, like Zinfandel, Chianti, or Beaujolais. My results were better with Zin than Chianti, which was a bit rough. Using young wine is imperative (and generally cheaper). Older wine’s darker color—and possible sediments—detract from the dish, although its flavor can be superb.

Closeup of Pinkish Part of Chicken
I Spy Some Pink-urple Chicken
My husband and I had concerns about red wine turning the chicken pink-urple (his word, taught to him by his kids). I’m told, and my cookbook illustrates, a lovely bronze color. However…the parts that sit in the wine sauce while simmering do turn purple-brown. Since the chicken is not completely submerged in the sauce, the top remains close to the bronze color from the pre-simmering browning process. Red wine does make the sauce—cooked down after chicken is removed—a lovely red brown color.

Parsley, Thyme, and Bay Leaves Tied Together
Simple 3-Herb Bouquet Garni
With only a few ingredients, this dish will only be as good as the chicken and the wine that you use. I used a whole organic chicken from Costco (available only in two-packs, alas), a plump but not fatty bird with a wholesome flavor. Next time I’d use a young Zinfandel or perhaps a Beaujolais nouveau. World Market is my favorite source for reasonably priced wine options.

While ingredients are few, prepare yourself for a complex cooking process (it’s French, ya’all!) Chicken, onions, and mushrooms are individually precooked before simmering in the wine. Also, you’ll be making a bouquet garni, tying several herbs together to simmer with the chicken. Allow plenty of time for both preparation and simmering. And in French tradition, also allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy your coq au vin creation with good wine and good company.

Chicken, Mushrooms & Bouquet Garni in One Skillet, Onions and Wine in Another
Before the Simmering
Coq Au Vin (Chicken Braised in Red Wine)
serves about 8

4 sprigs thyme
3 large sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
4 – 4½ lb. chicken
salt and pepper
10 oz. pearl onions (see below)
1½ tbsp. olive oil
¾ lb. small mushrooms
2 tsp. butter or olive oil
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup chicken broth
wide noodles (optional)

Make the bouquet garni by tying the thyme and parsley sprigs together with white thread. Do not use dyed thread! Punch a small hole (using a fork tine or similar) in each bay leaf and tie them onto the bouquet. Set aside.

Cut the chicken up into serving size pieces. Pat dry on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on all sides. Sauté in large heavy skillet on medium high until golden brown. Start with skin side down, then flip pieces as needed to brown evenly. This will take about 12 minutes. Remove from skillet onto platter and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the pearl onions. It’s easiest to peel them this way: Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes, then transfer immediately to ice water to chill. Cut the root ends off each onion and squeeze to pop out. Dry off onions.

In a medium-large covered skillet, on medium heat, sauté onions in 1½ tbsp. olive oil. Shake frequently to brown onions on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Use a large, deep skillet to cook the mushrooms. You’ll be adding the chicken and liquids to this pan. Sauté/sweat mushrooms until they start to brown. Remove from heat until onions are prepared (next step).

Sprinkle onions with flour.  Stir in flour and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in wine and bring to boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from heat.

Add chicken to mushrooms. Add onion-wine mixture, chicken broth, and bouquet garni. Bring to boil. Turn down heat to low and simmer, covered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until chicken is very tender.

Remove chicken and vegetables from skillet with large slotted spoon. (Traditional French chefs also strain the liquid, but this is cumbersome and not really necessary IMHO). Remove the bouquet garni. Skim off as much fat as you can.

Boil liquid until it’s reduced by 1/3, skimming off any congealed proteins that come to the surface along the sides of the skillet.

Return chicken and veggies to the skillet.  Simmer for 3 – 4 minutes to heat through.

Though we ate this dish as is with a side of haricot vert (French green beans), it’s fabulous served over wide noodles, taking full advantage of the delicious sauce.

Sauteing the Onions while Browning the Chicken
Some Multitasking Required
Plate of Coq Au Vin
Nourishment for Body and Soul

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