December 14, 2009

You're so Vin: Modified Coq au Vin

Despite having studied French since I was eleven, double majored in French and English, and spent a year studying in Toulouse during college, I've never really cooked French food.

Why? Well, French food is intimidating. There's also the fact that my French host mother didn't set a very good example of French cooking for me, serving her daughters chocolate milk for dinner (as the main food group, not as an accompaniment). Then there's the fact that the ingredients in French dishes tend to be more expensive than, say, lentils.

Then comes Saturday night, when I finally watch Julie & Julia. I am so enamored of Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child and of the somewhat silly Julie Powell's project that I start to beat myself up for not having so much as attempted a French dish since I began this blog in May. Ever the supportive boyfriend, T encourages me to try something moderately difficult for Sunday's dinner.

I sit down before yesterday's omelet debacle to try to pick a French dish that's suitably difficult and somewhat healthy. Forgetting that the best French dishes are, by definition, unhealthy, T instantly poo-poos any dishes with bacon, lardon, salt pork, or anything resembling it, and I have too much self respect to use something like turkey bacon or tofu bacon. Also, I'm fairly certain that the use of such ingredients would result in Sarkozy flying over to Richmond to kick me in the face on behalf of la cuisine française.

I settle on Mark Bittman's coq au vin recipe (notable for its simplicity compared to, say, Alton Brown's version of coq au vin), and decide to cut the bacon from the recipe in favor of a bit of chicken fat that I have in the freezer. Not totally healthy, but not terrible, either.

Coq au vin translates to "rooster in wine," and was traditionally prepared with an actual rooster, or with an older, tougher chicken (I'm currently imagining a chicken with tattoos, a cigarette, and a penchant for "rumbles"). Today, however, many people prepare coq au vin with regular chicken, and I haven't heard any complaints.

I decided to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe, as they have a great flavor and I'm still too much of cut up and prepare a whole chicken carcass. The cooking process was a bit messy, but not too stressful (probably because I was enjoying what wine I didn't use for the recipe throughout the adventure), and the end result was, as T put it, "the best thing [I've] made yet."

Modified Coq au Vin (Chicken in Red Wine Sauce)
  • 3 lbs. (8-10 pieces) boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
  • 8 oz. button mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 cups medium-quality Pinot Noir (I used Pinot Evil and it was lovely)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 sprigs' worth of thyme leaves
  • 3 tbsp. chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp. chicken or bacon fat (you can leave this out, but it adds great flavor)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a medium-sized bowl, add 2-3 cups warm water to the porcini mushrooms so that they can rehydrate while you cook.

2. In a Dutch oven or similar-sized pot over medium-high heat, start your onions cooking in the chicken or bacon fat. Once they begin to soften up, add your button mushrooms and allow them to soften as well.

3. As the onions and mushrooms are cooking, heat the olive oil in a 10 or 12-inch frying pan. Trim the chicken thighs of excess fat, and brown them on both sides (you'll have to do this in two batches). The original recipe said to brown the chicken in the pot with the onions and mushrooms, but I did them separately so that they'd have enough room to get properly seared on both sides.

4. Once the chicken is browned and the onions and mushrooms are soft, add the chicken to the pot. Add your wine, stock, garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to medium, and cover. Allow the mixture to cook for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is tender.

5. Remove the chicken from the pot (tongs work best here), and set it to the side on a plate or in a baking dish.

6. Add the butter and the porcini mushrooms, with half of their liquid, to the pot. Turn the heat to high, and allow the mixture to boil until it has reduced in volume and thickened into a sauce-like consistency.

7. Once the mixture has thickened, turn off the heat and add the chicken so that it can become coated in sauce.

8. Serve over brown rice or mashed potatoes, or butter and toast some baguette to be used as a sponge for the delicious sauce.

Once you've added the red wine, the mixture will start to give off a really boozy smell. Do not be alarmed. This smell eventually cooks off, and what's left behind is one of the most delicious sauces I've ever tasted. The porcini mushrooms add a lot in terms of rich, earthy flavor, and the chicken remains wonderfully tender and flavorful.

Don't be afraid! Try it out the next night you've got some extra time to devote to dinner. Including prep work, this probably took me about an hour to prepare, and it was totally worth it.

One French dish down, 1,991,843,842,764,459 to go.

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