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Saturday, November 01, 2008

A French Classic: Coq au Vin

This classic French dish of chicken cooked in wine is just about the best thing I've ever cooked. When I decided to make another attempt at cooking coq au vin I distilled about twenty different recipes into what I have presented in the video. I honestly have to say that I wouldn't change anything. I will use an older stewing bird next time I make this as they are more appropriate for this kind of dish where the chicken is cooked slowly. Other than that, I think this came out about as well as I have ever tasted coq au vin. I went to summer school in Dijon way back when I was in college and I remember loving the two emblematic dishes from Bourgogne: coq au vin and beef Bourguignon. They are both made in a similar fashion so I suppose that I'll have to try making beef Bourguignon some time soon.

As the name states, this dish should be made with an older bird, over ten months while most fryer chickens are 7 to 13 weeks and roaster chickens are about five months old when they are called to duty. This is something most Americans don't think much about but in France they have taken poultry to heights we can barely imagine. It is their national symbol, after all, and adorns their most coveted emblem: the national football jersey. Spain has a lot of nice birds as well. My local market has abot five stalls that deal solely with birds of all types. I bought the regular chicken before I even knew what I was going to make but the next time I will use an older bird.

I realize that this recipe has nothing to do with Spain but France is our neighbor. I have been searching for a challenging Spanish chicken dish but this just popped into my head and I decided to try it. My cooking strategy is to first search out recipes for whatever it is I want to make. Most recipes are garbage and I discard most at a quick glance. I take a few things from different recipes. Then I look on youtube for cooking videos of the dish. Actually watching someone make a dish is a huge help in understanding what is going on. A lot of things become apparent that you may not have understood from the recipe. I ended up plagiarizing a show called Good Eats for my recipe although I made a few adjustments. You can't copyright a recipe.

Coq au Vin

Chicken cut in parts
Un-smoked bacon*
Pearl onions
Bottle of wine
3-4 cups chicken stock
2 carrots
1 onion
2 stalks of celery (I didn't use celery because it is hard to get here)
1 cup flour
Olive oil
Salt, black peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf

*if you can't find un-smoked bacon you can boil the bacon or pancetta in water for a minute to get rid of the smoke flavor. If you don't the dish will taste like bacon and not much else.

Mix salt and pepper to the flour and dust the chicken pieces thoroughly. Cook the bacon in a little water until the water evaporates. This will allow the bacon to render without burning it. Remove the bacon. Add a bit of olive oil and butter to the bacon fat. Brown the chicken pieces in the oil. Don't move the pieces once you have placed them in the oil. You want them to stiuck to the pan. Remove the browned chicken and put it in a pot with the carrots, onion, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, and peppercorns. Sauté the peeled pearl onions in the pan with the chicken fat and all the other good stuff, you may need to add a bit of oil and butter. Remove and then cook the mushrooms in the same pan. Remove the mushrooms and then deglaze the pan with cognac (or wine). Add this deglaze mixture to the pot with the chicken. Add the bottle of red wine and the chicken stock to the pot. At this point you can let the chicken marinate overnight but I just started cooking it. You can bake it in the oven or I found that cooking it on the stove was perfectly fine. When the chicken is completely cooked and is starting to fall off the bone, remove it from the pot and keep it warm. Reduce the sauce in the pot buy 1/3. After it has reduced strain the sauce and put it back on the stove. Add the cooked mushrooms and pearl onions. After these ingredients are well blended into the sauce, add the chicken. It is now ready to serve.

*You may want to further thicken the sauce by adding a roux or a beurre manié.

This dish may look like a lot of trouble but I think that it is fairly simple in its execution. I can assure you that it is worth time, money, and effort. When we sat down to eat this meal I never wanted it to end. You were almost overwhelmed by the wonderful aroma as soon as the elevator door opened on my floor. Coq au vin should be served with a hearty starch dish. I made a Spanish potato recipe called patatas a lo pobre. !Buen provecho¡ Bon appetit.

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