Monday, February 13, 2012

Julia Child's Coq au Vin

If you're looking for a relatively easy but impressive dish to serve, say, on Valentine's Day, and have about an hour free to prepare such a meal, the coq au vin recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking may be perfect.

I will admit I'm just a touch more in love with Julia's boeuf bourguignon.  But this coq au vin is so delicious.  I've made it twice, once for my family and once for some of my coworkers (I love having little dinner parties!) and both times it surprised everyone in an exceptional way.  When cooked, the chicken takes on a reddish-brown appearance, which makes everyone think it's beef until they cut into it.  It's like a happy surprise!

A quick ingredient note, to begin with.  The original recipe calls for slab bacon or salt pork, cut into lardons, which are little 1/4-inch wide strips.  Well, I've searched high and low and cannot find either of those particular bacon products readily available, so I just buy regular bacon and slice up what I need.

It's not perfect, but it works.

The bacon needs to be blanched in simmering water for ten minutes to remove the salty, smokey flavor.  This is sort of a gross step.  Not the most appetizing part of this recipe.

Once the bacon has blanched, drain it into a sieve and rinse it well to remove all traces of brine.  Then pat it completely dry.  It can sit for a while if you need to move on to another step at this point.

While the bacon is blanching, I start on the brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms, which will be added to the pot at the end of the cooking time.

Basically, take a bunch of those small white onions (12 will do), peel them, brown them in a tablespoon and half each of butter and olive oil for about ten minutes or so, then add a half cup of brown stock and an herb sachet (half a bay leaf, thyme and parsley). Cover and simmer about 45 minutes.

I've briefly covered sauteing mushrooms before.  For this dish, they're nice quartered instead of sliced.   These can be prepared ahead (really so can the onions) and then set aside until you're ready for them.

Okay, so your bacon is blanched.  You need about three pounds of cut up fryer chicken for four people.  I doubled that amount when I cooked this because I had way more people to feed, and wanted leftovers.  Also, Julia's not specific about whether or not you need to use boneless chicken.  I decided, for ease of serving, to use boneless breasts. I'm not sure if it's right, but it tasted awesome.  I cut each large breast in half so I ended up with nine or ten pieces.

In a large pan or small dutch oven, saute the bacon in butter until it is lightly browned.  Remove it with a slotted spoon and reserve.  Then brown the chicken pieces in the pork fat, turning once.  You can add a little olive oil if the chicken is sticking.

Once the chicken has been browned on both sides, return the bacon to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and let cook for about six to ten minutes on medium heat, turning the chicken once.

Pour in some French brandy....

...then light it on fire.

(Thanks to my husband for taking the picture so I didn't light myself on fire.)

Shake the pot back and forth until the flames recede.  Then add three cups of red wine (I used a Merlot) and enough beef stock to cover the chicken.  Add a bay leaf, two cloves of crushed garlic, 1/3 cup of tomato paste, and a 1/4 teaspoon or so of dried thyme.

Cover and let it simmer for about twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, make a beurre manie (1 and 1/2 tablespoons each of soft butter and flour).

Remove the chicken to a side dish and cover to keep warm.  Degrease the sauce carefully with a spoon.

Reduce the sauce to about half its previous amount.  Then whisk in the beurre manie.  The sauce will "sieze" a bit, but then become thick and velvety smooth.  Let it simmer until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.  At this point you may also be able to skim off more grease.

Return the chicken to the pot, and add the brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms.  Simmer a few minutes, basting with sauce, until the onions and mushrooms are heated through.

To serve, I accompanied this dish with parsley potatoes and crusty bread.  It can also be served with rice or noodles and a green vegetable of choice.

Bon appetit!

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