Monday, March 2, 2009

Molly Stevens' Coq au Vin

Today was a snow day up and down most of the east coast--though the DC school's chancellor is loathe to ever call a snow day--so thoughts turned to comfort food. A half finished bottle of cabernet sauvignon meant some sort of wine braised preparation and I knew it would involve my Dutch oven and turning on the oven. I was leaning towards hunter style chicken (either the Italian cacciatore or the French chasseur), chicken stemperata, or coq au vin. Having made and enjoyed boeuf bourguignon a couple of weeks ago, Brian was eager to try chicken cooked in wine, though I was leaning towards Mario Batali's chicken stemperata, which is a delicious chicken braised in wine with all kinds of vegetables and olives that I blogged about last year.

The preparation for the French dishes boeuf Bourguignon and coq au vin couldn't have been more similar, even though for the beef I followed Julia's and Jacques' recipe from Cooking at Home and for the chicken I used a recipe from Molly Stevens' All About Braising. Once again I looked up Julia's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and chose to go with Ms. Stevens because the preparation was not only simpler, but also quite similar to Julia's revised Bourguignon technique in J & J Cooking at Home. I barely changed anything except that I cooked the mushrooms and onions together rather than separately in the same way as I did for the Bourguignon. I also did not place the aromatics and herbs into the cheesecloth as J & J describe in Cooking at Home, but in the future that will be my method going forward. Having the bits of chopped onion and carrot in the final sauce was tasty but I liked the smoothness of the Bourguignon sauce vs. the coq au vin sauce. This dish was delicious when first prepared for dinner, but was of course even better the next day for lunch, proving once again that making a braised dish is the perfect justification for serving leftovers to company!

Just a quick word about the "coq" in coq au vin. In France, the dish may be prepared using a rooster (coq = cock) or a stewing hen. American supermarkets are not likely to have either for sale. The stewing hen makes the most sense to me really in that a braise is really a slow cooked dish using a tough cut of meat. As the meat cooks collagen and connective tissue are incorporated into the sauce thickening it naturally with the gelatin that forms. Stewing hens if you find one are most useful for making stock, and as I've never cooked one, I'd just take the easy route and use a roaster, and not the stewing hen, especially if you plan to make and serve the dish in the same evening. The dish will finish quickly and the meat won't be tough. On the other hand if you feel like making the dish in a slow cooker with a stewing hen, let me know how it turns out!

Coq au Vin
Adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Serves 4 to 6

4 ounces slab bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/2 inch dice [I used 5 slices of unsmoked bacon]
1 4 to 5 pound chicken cut into 8 pieces, wing tips, back, neck, and giblets (except the liver) reserved [I quartered my chicken and separated the wings from the breast. I did not reserve the other chicken pieces for cooking in the stew as directed. I always reserve those pieces in my freezer for making chicken stock at a later time, which on this day I was making during the day in my slow cooker]
salt and pepper [I used fennel spice rub]
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon paste
1 bottle of dry, fruity red wine
2 garlic cloves smashed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 cup chicken stock

10 ounces pearl onions, about 15-25, fresh or frozen and thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter and/or olive oil
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms [I used 10 ounces of assorted portobello, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms]
course salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon butter at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

  1. Prepare the bacon and chicken: In a 6 to 8 quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and then add the bacon, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon pieces have become crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. While the bacon is cooking, salt and pepper the chicken all over and then dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside. Add half the chicken in a single, uncrowded layer skin side down and let brown well on the first side without moving it, about 5 minutes. Check to see that a nice crust has formed, and then turn the pieces over to brown the other side, about another 4 minutes or so. Remove the browned chicken to a platter and repeat with the second batch.
  2. Prepare the aromatic veggies for the braise: Lower your oven rack to the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the accumulated fat in the pan and return the pan to medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and the garlic cloves and cook until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook with the vegetables for a minute or two. Deglaze the pan with one third of the bottle of wine, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the wine and bring to a boil. Add the thyme and bay leaf. [I'm lazy and just tied together 6 thyme sprigs and added to the wine and vegetable mixture. The thyme leaves will come off into the liquid.] Reduce for about 15 minutes to about a cup and a half of liquid. [I confess I started with half a bottle of wine and just skipped the wine reduction to no negative consequences.] Add the cup of stock and bring to a boil. Ladle out about 3/4 cup of the braising liquid and reserve for cooking the mushrooms.
  3. The braise: Add the bacon and chicken back to the pot, including any accumulated juices on the platter, with the legs and thighs on the bottom and breast on top. The liquid should only come up about half way or so to the level of the chicken but that's OK because braising is about the simmering and the steam that is trapped in the Dutch oven to cook the meat. Cover the meat with a piece of parchment paper larger than the diameter of the pot. Push down on the paper so that it is just above the top of the chicken and cover the pot with its lid (the edges of the paper will overhang the pot). Place this pot into the oven and bask in the aromas of this dish as it simmers away. After 15 minutes, check the pot to make sure that it's not boiling too rapidly. Adjust the oven temperature down or up to maintain a simmer. After another 30 minutes, check the chicken again and stir everything around so that the pieces on top are immersed in the liquid and the pieces immersed are now on top. The total braise should take about 60 and 75 minutes.
  4. The mushrooms and onions: While the chicken is braising in the oven, prepare the mushrooms and onions. Heat the butter and/or oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, stirring to coat with the oil and butter. Let cook for 5 minutes undisturbed. Check a mushroom to see if it's browning nicely, and if so stir the mushrooms around and let them cook for 4 more minutes. Meanwhile, if using fresh pearl onions (as I had to), bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the onions in boiling water for 1 minute and remove to a bowl of ice water. Trim off the ugly part of the onion root, keeping the onion layers in tact as best as you can. Squeeze on the onion skin to pop out the onion pearl. You'll probably have to sacrifice a layer of onion, but it's not worth the frustration to try and peel just the outer layer. Trim the other end if necesary. Set the onions aside on paper towels to dry as you finish the mushrooms. Stir in the pearl onions and season the combination with salt and peppers. Let the onions caramelize and cook with the mushrooms for 8 more minutes, stirring once or twice so that the onions brown evenly. Deglaze the pan with the reserved braising liquid, scraping up all the browned bits and bringing to gentle boil. Stir in the brandy and ignite if you're feeling dramatic, otherwise just cover and reduce to a simmer for 5 more minutes. (Note: NEVER pour the brandy directly from the bottle, especially if cooking over gas as the alcohol could ignite and cause an explosion. Best to pour off the measured amount and add just the amount needed.) Remove the lid, raise the heat and reduce the liquid to a quarter cup or so. Put the mushrooms and onions aside until ready to finish the dish.
  5. The finish: Remove the coq au vin from the oven and place the chicken pieces on a plate. When cooled slightly, strain the sauce and vegetables into a fat separator, reserving the vegetables. Or alternatively, strain the vegetables and braising liquid into a bowl using a sieve and skim off some of the fat using a wide flat spoon. Return the de-fatted liquid to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. You should have about two cups or so. Combine the softened butter with the flour and stir to combine into a beurre manie, making sure there are no flour lumps. Whisk the beurre manie into the liquid and boil for a few minutes, thickening the sauce. Add the chicken, reserved vegetables, mushrooms and onions back to the pot to reheat everything. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Serve the chicken with the onions and mushrooms on your favorite platter, garnished with parsley and pass the sauce on the side.
This dish is perfect with a simple starch side like mashed or boiled potatoes. Haricots verts would complete the picture perfect French bistro dinner! Voila!

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