Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Revisiting Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin was a dim memory for Ed and me -- one of those recipes that appeared about the same time Julia Child did, in the early 70s. We both recall making it, but neither of us thought it was worth the effort to try it again. I just checked my copy of The French Chef Cookbook and the Coq au Vin page is spotless, so I must have used a different recipe. And perhaps that's the source of the old lackadaisical results.

Inspired by success with other recipes from Molly Stephens All About Braising, I tried her version -- and it was so unbelievably good, we both wondered why we had stopped making it.

A possible difference, then and now: ingredients. Granted, chickens weren't machine products in the 70s, the way they are now. But we used the wonderful chicken from Mairose Grocery (which, alas, is closing.) The wine today is so much better (since we couldn't afford good French wine back then.) I used an Australian Yellowtail Syrah -- inexpensive, but very drinkable. The mushrooms are a lot fresher -- it was hard to even find non-canned mushrooms back in the dark ages. And (confession) Birds Eye makes pearl onions a whole lot easier to prepare these days. ... And the no-nitrate smoked bacon from Kroeger & Sons is soooo much better than Oscar Meyer. So essentially all the raw ingredients are better these days (except for the chicken, unless you're willing to pay more).

For a simple braise of chicken in red wine, Coq au Vin has a lot of steps... and therein lies the secret to its flavor, and endurance as a recipe. I suspect you'd be hard pressed to find this on a restaurant menu these days -- too bad, because if you follow the real recipe, this is so much more than chicken and stewed veggies.

Basically, you sauté a couple slices of diced bacon. Remove from pan, along with most of the fat, then sauté cut-up chicken. Add most of a bottle of decent red wine, garlic, thyme, bay. Then braise in a low oven. Meanwhile, sauté sliced mushrooms in a hot pan, to get them nice and brown, add pearl onions (prepared or simply frozen), and a little of the red wine from the braise. When the chicken is done, remove from the sauce, and then boil it down to thicken a bit. Add back the chicken, veggies, and bacon, and reheat. It would be easy to make this ahead of time for a dinner party -- the house would smell fabulous as the braise reheats, but there would be zero cleanup.

Taking the time to prepare the onions and mushrooms properly is a big part of the success of the dish -- the veggies stay toothsome, instead of soft. This is definitely going on the favorite winter menu list.

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