Happy Victoria Day and welcome to Week 3 of the JC100 Celebration! For most Canadians, Victoria Day marks the unofficial kick-off to summer; the weekend that we break out the barbecues, plant the garden, or spend time relaxing at the lake. I woke up this morning to some very un-summery weather – pouring rain, crashing thunder and lightning. I still went to the lake but I didn’t stay long, and I definitely didn’t fire up the barbecue.
But I stopped pouting about the lousy weather as soon as this week’s JC100 special assignment arrived in my inbox. Much to my delight, the panel had selected the perfect recipe to enjoy when it’s wet and dreary outside – Coq au Vin! Originally considered peasant food, French farmers made this dish from an old rooster, marinated then slowly braised until very tender. Julia Child’s wonderful version is from her classic cookbook, The Way to Cook, and consists of chicken in red wine with small braised onions, mushrooms, and lardons of pork. It’s a very hearty and satisfying dish. It’s also a great excuse to open a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir that you might have hoarded away for a rainy day.
Julia Child’s recipe for Coq au Vin
|Coq au Vin|
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) lardons – 1 by 1/4 inch strips of blanched slab bacon or salt pork (see Special Notes)
- 2 1/2 to 3 pounds frying chicken parts
- 1/3 cup good brandy, optional
- 2 Tbs butter
- 1 Tbs olive oil or good cooking oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, puree
- 1 imported bay leaf
- 1/4 tsp or so thyme
- 1 large ripe red unpeeled tomato, chopped, or 1/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes
- 3 cups young red wine (Zinfandel, Macon, or Chianti type)
- 1 or more cups chicken stock
- Beurre manie for the sauce (1 1/2 Tbs each flour and softened butter blended to a paste)
- Fresh parsley springs, or chopped parsley
- 12 to 16 small brown-braised white onions
- 3 cups fresh mushrooms, trimmed, quartered and sautéed
- For Chicken: Before browning the chicken, sauté the blanched bacon or salt pork and remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan.
- Dry the chicken parts thoroughly then brown the chicken in the pork fat, adding a little olive oil, if needed.
- Flame the chicken with the brandy, if you wish. It does gives its own special flavour, besides being fun to do.
- Then add the garlic, bay, thyme and tomato. Pour in the wine and enough stock barely to cover the ingredients. Bring to the simmer; cover, and simmer slowly for 20 minutes or until the chicken is tender when pressed.
- Remove the chicken to a side dish, and spoon surface fat off the cooking juices. Pour the juices into a saucepan and taste very carefully for strength and seasoning. Boil down rapidly if it needs strength, adding more of the seasonings if you think them necessary.
- Off heat, whisk the beurre manie to make a lightly thickened sauce. Bring briefly to the simmer. The sauce should be just thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
- Wash out the casserole; return the chicken to it. Strew the braised onions and sautéed mushrooms over the chicken, baste with the sauce, and simmer a few minutes, basting, to rewarm the chicken and to blend flavours.
- For brown-braised onions: In a pan just roomy enough to hold them in one layer, sauté the peeled onions in a little clarified butter or oil, swirling the pan to turn them; they will not brown evenly, but will take on a decent amount of colour. Then add chicken broth (and, if you wish, a little red wine) to come half-way up. Season lightly with salt and perhaps a bay leaf or a pinch of dried herbs. Cover and simmer slowly 24 to 30 minutes, until the onions are tender when pierced but still hold their shape.
- For sautéed mushrooms: Set the frying pan over high heat with 1 Tbs butter and 1 tsp light olive oil. When the butter foam begins to subside, toss in the mushrooms. Toss often, swirling the pan by its handle, for several minutes, while the mushrooms absorb the butter. In a minute or two it reappears on their surface; toss with 1/2 Tbs chopped shallot or scallion a moment or two more if you wish to brown lightly. Toss with a sprinkling of salt and grinds of fresh pepper.
To blanch bacon or salt pork:
When you use bacon or salt pork in cooking, you want to remove its salt as well as its smoky flavour, which would permeate the rest of the food. To do so, you blanch it, meaning you drop it into a saucepan of cold water to cover it by 2 to 3 inches, bring it to the boil, and simmer 5 to 8 minutes; then drain, refresh in cold water, and pat dry in paper towels.
I really hesitated when it came time to blanch all the lovely, smokey, salty flavour out of the bacon but I wanted to trust Julia completely, so I did it. I also took her advice and flambéed the chicken with brandy. I even managed to capture a little of the flame action!
The Coq au Vin recipe elaborates on her master recipe for Ragout of Chicken and Onions in Red Wine. That, along with some special notes in the sidebar and the mini-recipes for brown-braised onions and sautéed mushrooms, made following this recipe a bit of a challenge.* I also noticed that the Coq au Vin instructions say to brown the blanched bacon and then remove it to a side dish, but I never saw the bacon mentioned again. I decided to add it in with the chicken to braise but in hindsight I think it should have stayed aside and then been added back in with the brown-braised onions and sautéed mushrooms. I also chose to strain the cooking liquid to remove the tomatoes before reducing to make a less rustic looking sauce. I had to double the quantities for the beurre manie too, presumably because I used a lot more than one cup of chicken stock to cover the ingredients in the pan.
Julia suggested accompaniments for the Coq au Vin, including arranging the chicken on a hot platter and then decorating it with small steamed potatoes and parsley, or mounding it on a bed of rice or noodles. I chose to serve my version on egg noodles. Julia also recommended pairing the dish with a light young red wine, presumably the same one you used in the dish itself.
Now aren’t you glad you’ve saved that Pinot Noir for a rainy day?
*Each Thursday, the JC100 team will post the original recipe in its entirety on their blog under the heading Get Cooking Thursday.