Sunday, September 29, 2013

Coq Au Vin

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite French recipes. This creamy, dreamy chicken dinner is not something to be casually whipped up at the spur of the moment. It is definitely a labor of love -  a process to be planned for a chilly weekend dinner or reserved for company and special occasions. Or, in this case, simply because we had a hankering for it. I have not made Coq au Vin since Matthew was a baby. And after savoring this comforting meal once again, I kick myself for not making it at least once or twice each fall. It is a quintessential Fall/Winter dish - warm, creamy, rich, and comforting. And the sauce! Oh it is magnificent. Be sure to serve this with lots of fresh bread to sop up the sauce. Or serve it over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes. Something carby. It's the right thing to do.

As far as the wine is concerned - do not use a bottle of cooking wine from the store. It will give the sauce an off-flavor. I highly recommend a bottle of Cabernet or Pinot Noir from the Woodbridge collection by Robert Mondavi. They are inexpensive wines that taste phenomenal.

Coq Au Vin
adapted slightly from Cook's Illustrated

4 chicken leg quarters (about 3 pounds), carefully trimmed of all fat, cleaned, dried, and thighs and drumsticks separated
1 bottle Pinot Noir or Red Zinfandel
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
6 ounces bacon (preferably thick-cut), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
6 - 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
2 medium cloves garlic, skin on and smashed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
10 parsley stems
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
24 frozen pearl onions, thawed
1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced
2-3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Generously sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and ground black pepper. Bring red wine and chicken stock to boil in large, heavy saucepan; reduce heat to medium-high and simmer until reduced to about 4 cups (about 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, fry bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat until fat has rendered and bacon is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon with slotted spoon to paper towel-lined plate to drain. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon butter with rendered bacon fat; add carrot, onion, shallots, and garlic and sauté until lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Press vegetables against side of pan with slotted spoon to squeeze out as much fat as possible; transfer vegetables to pan with reduced wine mixture (off heat) and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from Dutch oven.

Return Dutch oven to burner over medium-high heat and add another 1 tablespoon butter. When butter is melted, add chicken (in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding) and cook until well browned all over, turning once or twice during cooking, about 12-16 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. Pour off all fat from Dutch oven and return to heat and add wine-vegetable mixture. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan with wooden spoon. Add browned chicken, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and tomato paste to boiling wine mixture; return to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently, partially covered. Turn chicken once during cooking, until tender and infused with wine flavor, about 45-60 minutes.

While chicken and sauce are cooking, heat another 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add pearl onions and cook, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if butter starts to brown too fast, until lightly browned and almost cooked through (5-8 minutes). Add mushrooms, season with salt, cover, increase heat to medium, and cook until mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Remove cover, increase heat to high, and boil until liquid evaporates and onions and mushrooms are golden brown, 2-3 minutes more. Transfer onions and mushrooms to plate with bacon. Set aside.

When the chicken is cooked, transfer to serving bowl or platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Strain sauce through fine mesh sieve set over large measuring cup, pressing on solids with wooden spoon to release as much liquid as possible. The sauce should measure 2-3 cups (I get about 3 cups every single time). Return sauce to pan and skim as much fat as possible off surface. Counting 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour for each cup of sauce, mash 2 to 3 tablespoons each butter and flour in small bowl or plate to make a beurre manié. Bring sauce to boil and whisk in beurre manié until smooth. Add reserved chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms. Adjust seasoning with salt and ground black pepper to taste, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer very gently to warm through and blend flavors. Let mingle for about 5 minutes before checking the seasoning one more time and adjust with additional salt and ground black pepper if necessary. Add the chopped parsley.

Serve immediately over whipped potatoes, egg noodles, or even a creamy polenta!

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