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Monday, March 28, 2011

Coq Au Vin

The pleasures of the table---that lovely old-fashioned
phrase---depict food as an art form, as a delightful part
of civilized life.  In spite of food fads, fitness programs,
and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a
beautifully conceived meal.
                                    -Julia Child
                                     The Way To Cook, 1989

The first cookbook Michael gave me was Julia Child's,  The Way To Cook.  Published in 1989, claims have been made that she considered it her best work. Known mostly for Mastering The Art Of French Cooking,   The Way To Cook is one of Julia Child's other cookbooks and is designed around the concept that certain  foods have the same cooking methods.  In each chapter, she groups those foods with that in mind and every chapter is filled with master recipes from which other recipes are based on.

The Way To Cook has been my go-to cookbook for over 20 years.  I adore it.  It's worn and tattered.  Many  pages stick together from spilled ingredients and frustrated tears.  Most pages are stained with red wine or ingredients I've battled with over the years..  I've used it a lot.

I always refer to it when making coq au vin, rooster in red wine. Back in the day, the long red-wine braise was used to break down and tenderize tough old cock meat.  Nowadays, it's used to tenderize and flavor chicken or capon. For chicken braises, the master recipe in The Way To Cook is Ragout of Chicken in Red Wine, a fairly straighforward recipe for brasied chicken in red wine. Coq au vin takes it to another level.
Last night brought a cool and chilly return of winter.  A long aromatic braise seemed like the perfect remedy to beat the chill.  I pulled Julia's cookbook from the top kitchen shelf and placed it on the kitchen counter.  It was bookmarked with a straw to page 142,  Coq Au Vin.  Kismet.

Coq au vin is hard to mess up.  I've made it hundreds of times.  Languid brasies are soothing to the soul and forgiving to  forgetful cooks.  Although I've adapted and tweaked her recipe for coq au vin over the years, I always pull out The Way To Cook when I make it.  Kitchen crutch or kitchen companion?  Both, I guess.  Last night, Julia Child's cookbook kept me company as I dove head first into yet another batch of coq au vin.

After rendering blanched bacon in a dutch oven until crisp, I removed the bacon and browned chicken thighs and halved chicken breasts in the remaining fat.  When the chicken was well browned, I deglazed the pot with brandy and ignited it with a match.  Fun.  I had a lid handy to smother the flames because I've been known to add too much brandy, resulting in ridiculous flame heights.

After the flames died down, I added a 3/4 bottle of Francis Coppola Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 ounces of tomato paste, bay leaves, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and enough chicken stock to barely cover the ingredients.  I brought it a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and slid it  into a pre-heated 350 degree oven to braise.

Julia Child's recipe calls for braising the chicken on top of the stove for 20 minutes.  I braised mine in the oven much much longer. After 45 minutes, I pulled the chicken out of the oven and added fresh minced parsley along with the remaining  cabernet sauvignon before sliding  it back into the oven to finish braising for an additional 45 minutes. 

The second braise gave me plenty of time to prepare the garnishes.  Traditionally, coq au vin is garnished with  sauteed pearl onions and button mushrooms. I opted for  flat cipollini onions and earthy shitake mushrooms because they simply looked better.
After trimming the stems from the mushrooms and blanching the onions to remove the skins, I sauteed them in equal parts olive oil and butter until they were deeply caramelized.  I sprinkled them with fresh parsley and set them aside.

Thankfully, the prep left plenty of time for wine.

When it was time to eat, I carefully removed the chicken to a side dish  and thickened the sauce by whisking in a  beurre manie ( a butter and flour paste) until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. After adding the mushrooms, onions, and chicken to the sauce, I gently re-heated it to warm everything through.

I served the coq au vin in large bowls over penne pasta  finished with tons of minced curly leaf parsley.

The chicken totally benefited from the long braise.  While remaining intact on the bones, the chicken thighs and breasts were meltingly tender, burgundy stained, and completely infused with deeply concentrated red wine flavor. Every morsel of meat was enrobed with heavenly tannic acidity from the reduced wine, allowing a soft mouthfeel with strong  backbone.  Bold and soft.

The caramelized cipollini onions were sweet and calming, providing respite from the richness of the sauce. I was blown away by the unconventional shitake mushrooms.  They were intensely caramelized, tasting like firm and spongy umami-laced bacon. Fascinating. They stole my bacon-loving heart.  I may never use button mushrooms again. 

The blanket of minced parsley provided a needed fresh grassy finish. More so an ingredient than a garnish, the parsley was key.  The coq au vin simply needed that last blast of freshness.

I know I strayed wildly from
Julia Child's original coq au vin recipe. 
I've strayed  for years, but always keep her beside me in the kitchen whenever I prepare it.

Crutch or companion? 
Lovingly, both.

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