Friday, December 6, 2013

Weekday Coq au Vin

What I love most about winter is my counterpart invariably pulls out Le Gastronomique for a little old school comfort food. This week, he tried his had at that old classic Coq au Vin. As the name implies, this is basically chicken in a wine sauce. And it is a very old recipe with some accounts tracing it back to Julius Caesar in Gaul. A variant of the dish first appeared in print in 1864. Then, about 100 years later, Julia Child brought it to the U.S. in her seminal cookbook and featured it often on her cooking show.

The basis of Coq au Vin - chicken and wine
The recipe was most likely developed as a means of preparing old rooster, so there is a certain amount of time devoted to simmering the chicken in the wine to help season it. Even if you used a conventional bird from the grocery store, you still want to allow sufficient simmering time for that authentic flavor to develop. You need to create a sauce that is flavorful enough to both compensate for the mildness of the slow-cooked meat, but also complements it without overpowring it. And, while many have tried, there is no real getting around the long, slow cook required to get this right. But there is a way to mitigate it so that you can even have authentic coq au vin on a school night. The trick is the slow cooker.

So, the night before, you will have left overs because you will be prepping your authentic coq au vin. One of the truly nice things about this dish is that it does not require any esoteric ingredients. We had everything we needed on hand for this without needing to stop by the grocery store. And in the 30-45 minutes it takes for your leftovers to reheat in the oven, you will be able to brown your meat and prep your veg.

You will need:
  • About 4 pounds of chicken, cut up (We used a pack of chicken thighs with the skin on that we deboned)
  • About 3 oz of bacon, also cut up
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Leek
  • Carrot
  • Potato
  • A heavy hand of Mediterranean seasoning on our chicken
  • Brandy
  • About half a bottle of a nice wine
  • A bit of habanero sauce or some other hot sauce to help cut the richness of the dish
  • A bit of sugar to help cut the bitter
  • A bit of flour
First, brown the bacon in a heavy pot. While it is browning, season the meat. We recommend sage, thyme, oregano, savory, white pepper, salt, and a bit of that habanero sauce. Place the chicken skin-side down directly on top of the bacon.

Start with a nice base of bacon

Continue to cook the chicken in the bacon fat while you prep your veg, remembering to turn the chicken a couple of times with your tongs.

Heavily seasoned chicken cooking in the bacon

You'll also want to sprinkle a handful of flour over the chicken. This will mix with the fats and will help things thicken in this first cooking.

A little flour never hurts

And, prepping the veg is not so bad for this dish as you will want large chunks of veg. Make sure to peel the potatoes and carrots, and to thoroughly clean your leek.

Large chunks of veg

Once the chicken has cooked through and the outside has browned, add a generous pour of brandy to the pot. If you have the time and you want to be truly authentic, light it up and flame it off. We passed on this step and just let the heat of the pot cook off the booze.

When it looks like this, it's ready for the booze

You'll also want to add that nice wine, and also a bit of sugar. While the French may say you'll get the sugar from the wine, we used a domestic and were not hedging our bets.

A splash of brandy

A lot of wine

Give the wine some time to cook as well. Then, gently transfer the contents of your pot to your 2-quart measuring cup. Once it has cooled a bit, place a lid on it and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight for the flavors to mingle.

When it looks like this, it's done for the night

A large measuring cup is ideal for overnight storage

Bag up your veg for the night also.

The next morning, get out that slow cooker. Place the potatoes in first at the bottom of the pot. Then add the rest of the veg. Then place the meat on top, pouring the liquid from the meat over the whole thing and add a couple of cups of water as well.

Set your slow cooker for 4-6 hours and go on your merry way to work. When you get home, your coq au vin will be cooked, and you'll just have to make the sauce. This is a necessary and quick step, so don't get over-excited and skip it, no matter how good the kitchen smells.

This is what I came home to on Thursday
Empty the contents of the slow cooker into a colander to strain the sauce from the meat and veg. Then strain the liquid again through a mesh colander or something similar. This is also a necessary step to remove the sediment from the sauce. Here's a photo depicting why you should do this.

Why you need to strain that sauce

Place the strained sauce in a pan on the stove over medium heat. Dissolve some potato starch in a bit of water and add it to the sauce and simmer until slightly thickened.

Thickening the sauce on the stovetop

Arrange your chicken pieces and veg in a wide, shallow bowl and top with the sauce. And go easy on that sauce. That golden color and delicious flavor comes from animal fat. Plus, the surprise best-tasting element of this dish - the onions. They come out sweet and fatty and melt in your mouth. And that's how you get coq au vin on a Thursday night.

Weekday Coq au Vin

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