Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coq Au Vin

Chicken stewed in rich red wine.  Mmmm, the French certainly know how to live...and how to eat.  This is one of my favorite dishes from the Auvergne/Bourgogne region of France, though these days you can find it all over.  Of course, it's frightfully easy to make yourself, you just need to allow enough time for the chicken to slow cook in the burgundy wine until it's almost fall-off-the-bone tender and full of flavor.  I usually start several hours before my planned dinner time.

I also start with a whole chicken.  While you can buy your chicken already cut up, I like to use a whole bird, as you get more bang for your buck, and you also get things like the neck and back bones, and more bones in the stew mean more flavor in your sauce.  (You can discard the bones after you're done)  I also enjoy cutting up the bird--it's a good skill to keep up in your kitchen repertoire.  I also encourage using the whole bird because you get a pretty much equal amount of light and dark pieces, and your sauce won't be as rich without the dark meat.  If you've got a lot of white meat eaters in the house, buy a couple extra breasts and make a slightly larger batch of Coq Au Vin. 

Coq Au Vin - A French Chicken Casserole

1 Chicken, cut into 10 serving pieces
6 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1 Bouquet Garni (Bay Leaves, Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary)
2 Slices of thick bacon
1 Tablespoon olive of vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons butter
24 small mushrooms
24 pickling onions, peeled
1 bottle red burgundy wine
3 cloves garlic, peeled

Cut the chicken into 10 pieces:  Two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks, two drumettes, and two flappers.  I use a cleaver to chop up the bird, so I never seem to be accurate enough to split the spine, so this usually comes out as a 'bonus' 11th piece.  There's no meat on this 'backbone' piece, but it's a good piece for stewing, so I add it to the pot, and discard it later.  Here's what I've got when I'm done:

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour.  Set them aside for now. 

Next, cut your bacon rashers (did you know pieces of bacon were called rashers?) into matchsticks, as in the picture below. 

Saute the bacon matchsticks in a large pot until they become crispy.  Remove and set aside.  Add the oil and butter to the pot and saute the onions and mushrooms until golden brown.  (regarding those little onions...they can be tough to peel.  A trick to make things easier.  Drop them in boiling water for a minute or two, then strain.  Their peels will slip right off.  Dry them well before you saute)

Remove the onions and mushrooms and add to the bacon.  Set this aside for now.  At this time you can start browning your chicken pieces, two or three at a time, until they all have a nice sear.  At this point, many Coq Au Vin recipes will tell you to add all the pieces to the pot, pour cognac over them, and ignite.  I used to do this, as it was cool to see that pretty blue open flame in the pot, but I've since made the dish several times without this step, and have noticed no difference in flavor.  I now consider it a waste of good cognac.  Or even bad cognac.  So just skip this step and save the courvoisier for the ladies man. 

Add the chicken pieces to the pot, and add the wine.  You don't need a top notch burgundy for this, really any good red table wine will do.  I use a wine called L’EpayriĆ©, which you can find in most grocery or liquor stores.  I buy a 1.5 litre, so I can make sure to have enough to just cover the chicken in the pot, and still have enough left over for a few glasses for the chef. 

Bring the wine to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  At this point, add the bouquet garni, and salt and pepper to taste.  Some people also add a little nutmeg and sugar at this point, but I find I like it better without.  Oh, what's a bouquet garni, you ask?  This is a little bundle of herbs you will encounter often in French cooking.

A bouquet garni is simply bay leaves, parsley, thyme and rosemary tied together with cooking twine into a little bundle, as shown below. 

Add it to the pot, and let it simmer away for an hour or two.  The longer, the better, in my opinion.  But make sure you keep the pot on a gentle simmer--you don't want to boil away the wine.  Thirty minutes before you are ready to serve, add the mushroom/onion/bacon mixture back in and simmer for, you guessed it, thirty minutes.

To serve, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and arrange on a serving platter.  Remove the bouquet garni and discard.  I also use a skimmer and remove the mushrooms and onions and place on the platter as well.  Now, turn up the heat and boil the remaining liquid until it reduces to a thick sauce, which should happen in a few minutes.  If it doesn't seem to be thickening for you, add a little mixture of corn starch and water, a few drops at a time, until the sauce thickens.

Serve the sauce in a carafe or small pitcher so your guests can pour it over the chicken.  The dish goes lovely with a side of roast potatoes.

Enjoy, and until next time, Bon Appetit!