Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Coq au Beaujolais

As I was writing this blog post, I came across the episode of Good Eats, aptly titled "Cuckoo for Coq au Vin."  The dish Coq au Vin is a French dish that traditionally requires a whole rooster.  With a meat cleaver in hand, Alton Brown approaches a caged rooster, menacingly stating, "hey, Mr. Rooster, it's time to learn about your place on the ol' food chain...."  Ultimately, nothing was learned, as Alton Brown did not kill the rooster.  Instead, he went to the grocery store.  And, while Alton should have left the store with a whole roaster or stewing hen, he chose chicken thighs and legs instead. 

Alton Brown's choice provided some after-the-fact vindication for my first effort to make Coq au Vin.  This dish is traditionally a fricassée made with an old rooster, browning the broken-down pieces of the bird in pork fat and then stewing it a liquid of wine and aromatic vegetables. I wanted to make Coq au Vin  a main dish for a Christmas Party.  However, using an old rooster was not an option.  In fact, a whole bird was also not an option, because, absent some freaky mutation, a whole bird provides only two legs, two thighs, two breasts and two wings.  For a party of twelve or more people, that is just not pragmatic.  So, I decided to use chicken breasts and thighs, providing guests with the option of white or dark meat. 

To make this dish, I used a recipe called Le Vrai Coq au Vin from Anne Willian's book The Country Cooking of France.  Willan describes her recipe as the true way to make Coq au Vin, and, she even goes on to describe the different versions of Coq au Vin, which, as one would expect, vary based upon the "vin" or wine used to make the dish . One such style is Coq au Beaujolais, which has, in her words, "a light tawny sauce made with the local Gamay."  Based upon Willian's recipe, I   decided to make Coq au Beaujolais for a Christmas party.  To make this dish, I used a wine that I have previously reviewed on my blog ... the Domaine Pignard Beaujolais (2009).  This wine is made entirely with Gamay grapes and very drinkable, which makes for the perfect wine to cook Coq au Beaujolais.  If you cannot find a Beaujolais wine, you can substitute a Pinot Noir or Syrah, preferably one from France.    

Adapted from The Country Cooking of France at 113-114
Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients (for the Marinade):
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 bottle of wine (e.g., Beaujolais)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Ingredients (for the Chicken):
1 five to six pound stewing hen or roasting chicken
      (or pieces of chicken equaling five to six pounds)
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
6 ounces of lean smoked bacon
3 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of chicken broth
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bouquet garni

Ingredients (for the Garnish):
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
16 to 18 baby onions, peeled
1/2 pound of button mushrooms
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon of chopped flat leaf parsley

1.  Make the marinade.  In a medium saucepan, bring the onion, carrot, celery, 1 clove garlic, peppercorns and wine to a boil and simmer 5 minutes, and then cool the marinade completely.

2.  Marinade the chicken.  Rub each piece of chicken with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Pack the pieces in a deep, non-metallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade and flavorings over them. Spoon the olive oil over to keep the chicken moist. Cover with plastic wrap and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning the pieces from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied flavor of wine.

3.  Prep the chicken and reserve the marinade.  Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Strain and reserve the marinade liquid, keeping the vegetables separate.

4.   Fry the lardon or bacon.  Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the bacon into lardons -- small cubes or sticks. If you're using thick-sliced bacon, cut the bacon crosswise into thin sticks.  Heat the oil in a braising pan and fry the lardons until browned and the fat runs. Transfer the lardons to a bowl using a slotted spoon and set aside for the garnish.

5.  Brown the chicken.  Add the chicken pieces to the pan, skin-side down, and sauté over medium heat until well browned, at least 10 minutes. Turn, cook until the other side browns, 3 to 5 minutes, and remove them. Do not overcrowd the pan; if necessary, fry the chicken in two batches.

6.  Add the vegetables and liquid.  Add the reserved vegetables from the marinade to the pan and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Simmer 2 minutes, then stir in the broth with the shallots, the remaining two garlic cloves (chopped) and bouquet garni.

7.  Simmer the chicken.  Return the chicken to the pan, pushing the pieces down under the sauce. Cover the pan and cook in the oven, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, about 40 minutes to 1 hour. Some pieces may be done before others -- if so, remove them so they do not dry out from additional cooking, and continue cooking the rest.

8.  Prepare the garnish.  Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onions, sprinkling one-eighth teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper, and brown them over medium heat, about 5 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan from time to time so they color evenly. Lower the heat, cover and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Remove them with a slotted spoon and add to the reserved lardons. Add the mushrooms to the pan, sprinkling a pinch each of salt and pepper and add a little more butter if needed. Saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add them to the lardons and onions.

9.  Prepare the sauce.  When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces from the sauce and set them aside. Strain the sauce into a bowl, discarding the vegetables and seasonings. Use a ladle to skim any fat on the surface. Wipe out the pan and add the garnish. Stir in the sauce; if it seems thick, add a little more broth. If it's too thin, reduce over high heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the chicken pieces, pushing them well down into the sauce, and heat gently 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend. Coq au vin improves if you keep it, covered, in the refrigerator at least a day and up to 3 days so the flavor mellows before serving.

10.  Plate the dish.  To serve, reheat the chicken with the garnish and sauce on top of the stove. Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates and spoon over the garnish with a little sauce. Sprinkle the chicken with chopped parsley and serve any remaining sauce separately.

Overall, the dish turned out well, although I wish I had used chicken with the skin and bones.  I think both the skin and the bones would have provided more flavor to the dish.   Still, it was a good effort for my first attempt at making Coq au Vin or Coq au Beaujolais.  Anne Willan also includes instructions for making Coq au Riesling, using white wine instead of red wine.  I will definitely add that to my ever-growing "to do" list for cooking.

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