After a month long hiatus from the kitchen (thanks a lot grad school), I'm back and I think I might be better than ever. For my return I choose a challenging and time consuming dish that is worth every bit of effort I put forth.
Coq au Vin. Or Cock of the Wine (get your mind out of the gutter, it's talking about chicken). It might at well be called "The Best Freakin' Chicken You'll Ever Eat" or "Kill Me Now I Can Die A Happy Woman". It really is that good. My taster, John, who is usually very stingy with compliments, said this about the dish. "Sarah, you should start a restaurant and just serve this every three hours." It and the lamb shanks are battling it out for the best things I've ever made. John likes this better, but I'm not sure there's a clear winner, except for me for getting to eat this stuff.
I used to be skeptical about French food. Why were they the gourmet touch stone? They had snails, bread, and cheese, but the Italians had pasta, prosciutto and risotto. It seemed like a no brainer to me. Now, I think I know the secret to the France's culinary success. It consists of three things: Butter, Bacon, and Alcohol. You really can't go wrong with that combination. Each French dish I've made thus far has moderate usage of all three, and I really think they were on to something.
Then of course there's the braising and the sauces. Okay okay, I guess I just didn't know enough about French food to fully appreciate it. But now, I've been converted. It may take a ridiculous amount of time to make (3-4 hours), but the end result is so good that it's totally worth it.
The recipes so large (5 lbs of chicken) that I will be eating leftovers of this all week long. I served it over mashed potatoes to make the dish go even further and I cannot comprehend getting tired of it, even if I eat it for every meal for the rest of the week.
(This is how excited I am about this meal!)
Coq au Vin
From Molly Stevens All About Braising
1/4 pound slab bacon rind removed, cut into 1/2-inch dice
One 4 1/2 to 5 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces (I just got a whole cut up chicken from the market, it's way easier)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour for dredging (about 1/2 a cup)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion (about 8 oz.), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 carrot, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons Cognac or other good brandy
One 750-ml bottle dry, fruity red wine
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup chicken stock (I used my homemade vegetable stock that I had in the freezer)
10 oz. pearl onions (about 24; frozen pearl onions, not thawed, may be substituted) [I used frozen and they worked great!]
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
3. Rinse the chicken pieces with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Season on all sides with salt and pepper. Spread the flour in a wide shallow dish, and dredge half the chicken pieces one at a time, pacing each one in the flour, turning to coat both sides, and then lifting and patting lightly to shake off any excess [I dredged all the pieces at once to save time and counter space, just note that you won't be able to brown them all in the same batch].
4. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the rendered bacon fat in the pot and place over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, ease in the dredged pieces of chicken, skin side down, without crowding.
Sear on both sides, turning once with tongs [I had no tongs so I used two forks and probably singed off some arm hair... must buy tongs], until a deep golden brown crust forms, 7 to 10 minutes total.
Transfer the chicken to a large platter; dredge the remaining pieces [I did this step earlier], discard the flour. Add another tablespoon butter to the pot, sear the remaining chicken. The second batch may brown faster, lower the heat if it begins to burn at all. Transfer the chicken to the platter, pour off the fat from the pot without discarding the tasty browned bits. Return the pot to medium heat.
5. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and melt it over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot, and toss to coat the vegetables in the butter.
Saute, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are beginning to soften and are flecked with brown, about five minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to smear the paste through the vegetables. Add the Cognac [I used a shot glass and had to use slightly more than 2 tablespoons in order to deglaze the pot] and bring to a boil to deglaze, scraping the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge the crust [the crust is what makes the whole thing so glorious]. Simmer, stirring a few times, until the liquid is almost all gone. Raise the heat to high, add the red wine, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley, and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to medium-high and simmer rapidly until the wine reduces by about half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the reserved bacon and the stock and bring to a boil. Using a ladle, scoop out 1/2 cup of braising liquid and set aside for later cooking the pearl onions.
6. Add the chicken pieces to the pot in this order: place the legs, thighs, and wings in the pot first, then put the breast pieces on top of them, skin side down. (Keeping the breast pieces on top protects them from overcooking and drying out.) Pour in any juices that collected as the chicken sat and bring to a simmer [I forgot to add the chicken juice and didn't notice a difference, but it would be a good point to remember the more juiciness the better].
Cover the chicken with parchment paper, pressing down so that the paper nearly touches the chicken and extends over the sides of the pot by about an inch [I also forgot to get parchment paper and thus skipped this step as well. The chicken was definitely not dry at the end of this so I wonder what purpose the parchment paper serves.]. Cover with the lid and place on a rack in the lower third of the oven to braise. After 15 minutes, turn the breast pieces over with tongs [or forks]. At the same time, check that the liquid is simmering quietly. If not, lower the oven temp by 10 or 15 degrees. Continue braising gently for another 45 to 60 minutes, or until the breasts and dark meat are fork tender.
7. Meanwhile, cook the garnish. [I used frozen pearl onions for this, so I'm skipping her step for boiling and peeling fresh ones.] Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute, stirring and shaking, until tinged with brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, add the reserved 1/2 cup of braising liquid, cover and simmer, shaking the pan frequently, until the onions are tender when pierced (3 to 4 minutes, if using frozen; 12 if not). Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium high, and boil to reduce the liquid to a glaze.
Transfer the onions and liquid to a small bowl, scraping the pan with a rubber spatula [I had to remind myself that the pan was hot to keep from licking the glaze off of it. So good!]. Return the pan to a medium-high heat and add the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and saute briskly. The mushrooms may release a lot of liquid at first. Continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms develop an attractive chestnut brown sear, about 10 minutes. Remove them from the heat and return the onions and liquid to the skillet. Set aside.8. Take the chicken out of the oven. It looks and smells like heaven. Try to refrain from dipping your head into the pot, or attempting to make love to the chicken at this point [that's from me, not Molly].
Remove the chicken pieces to a platter and cover the chicken to keep it warm. Let the braising liquid settle and then skim off any fat from the top. Place the pot over high heat and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce the juices until thickened to the consistency of a vinaigrette, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
Lower the heat, add the onion mushroom garnish, heat through, about more 4 minutes.Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.
Prepare to have a foodgasm. Try to keep your "O" noises to a minimum so the neighbors don't get concerned.