Thursday, December 28, 2006

coq au vin

brown-braised baby onions

Despite it being an amateurish cliché, blaming your mother and all, I have to insist because it’s completely her fault that that anything less than Julia Child’s coq au vin with brown-braised baby onions and sautéed mushrooms on Tuesday night would be inedible, cruel beyond comparison. You see, she is the one who after reading the post about my unending obsession with Paris and French food, bought me My Life in France, which is akin to putting a loaded, I don’t know — egg beater? in my infatuated hands. I am but 75 pages into the book and I’m ready (and not for the first time) to book my one-way ticket. If nothing else, I plan to hold my breath or at least cut off bacon-and-meat kitchen dallies until my husband sends me to the Cordon Bleu.

The book speaks to me, though. Julia, like myself, was newly-married when she went to Paris and not entirely sure what she wanted to do when she grew up. She fell in love with the French approach to food — making chicken taste more “chickeny,” I believe she said — and had the time to experiment. In case the volume on this site doesn’t clue you in, so do I, and more importantly, I did on Tuesday, bestowed on me by my wonderful corporate overlords in the form of an additional day off.

coq au vin

Of course, being a bit more lazy and recalcitrant that our heroine, I lollygagged in front of the television eating a soggy bowl of Shredded Wheat until nearly 3 p.m. before finally getting up the energy to walk four blocks to the store, thus beginning a dish at nearly 5 p.m. that took many hours to make. But my oh my; it’s not that I should be surprised that a dish of chicken cooked in a sauce of bacon, red wine, beef stock and butter would be outstanding, but I didn’t think my husband would declare it the best chicken dish he’d ever eaten, because that boy, he eats a lot of chicken. (He later abridged this to say that my chicken marsala is his favorite, but I think he’s wrong.)

I liked it even better the second day (last night) when all the flavors had snuggled more cozily into each other, but sadly, we’d greedily picked out all the onions on the first serving. I know that steeping more than a dozen baby onions in boiling then freezing water, peeling them, browning them in butter and then braising them for 40 minutes in beef stock sounds like a miserable process, but I promise you it’s worth your time.

coq au vin

All of this is; her recipes are always ridden with steps that make you question her sanity, as well as yours for following them — for example, this one requests that you boil bacon, which some might remember caused Julie/Julia some hilarious righteous indignation:

Julia has suggested boiling the bacon for the quiche for five minutes. This sounds to me suspiciously like an activity that would prevent bacon from tasting like bacon. But who am I to question. I’ll boil the frickin bacon.

But myself and millions of others follow them because every single time we do, the end-product blows our tastebuds and beliefs about food — chicken, boring chicken! — out of their repetition-induced comas. If this isn’t an honorable exchange of a few more hours of soggy cereal and television bobble-heads, I don’t know what is. Oh right: I got to light the dish on fire with a match, my husband standing next to me with his phone on speed-dial to the NYC Fire Department. Now are you convinced?

coq au vin, aflame!

[Update: Yes, so. There is really no excuse for it taking me one month and two days to finally type up this recipe for you, except that I am hopelessly forgetful and also, it is 850 words. But it's here now and I'll be plenty happy to avoid this procrastination and the ensuing guilt in the future, m'kay?]

Coq Au Vin [Chicken in Red Wine with Onions, Mushrooms and Bacon]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Feeds 4 to 6 people

A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of bacon
A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12 to 24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)
1/2 pound sautéed mushrooms (recipe follows)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley

1. Remove the rind of and cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles 1/4-inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry. [Deb note: As noted, I'd totally skip this step next time.]
2. Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.
3. Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole.
4. Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
5. Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
6. Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
7. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (recipe follows).
8. Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf.
9. Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (buerre manie). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
10. Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. If this dish is not to be served immediately, film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered. It can now wait indefinitely.
11. Shortly before serving, bring to the simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is hot enough.
12. Sever from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with spring for parsley.

Oignons Glacés a Brun [Brown-braised Onions]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

For 18 to 24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
A 9- to 10-inch enameled skillet
1/2 cup of brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine or water
Salt and pepper to taste
A medium herb bouquet: 3 parsley springs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth

When the butter and oil are bubbling the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet. Serve them as they are.

Champignons Sautés Au Buerre [Sautéed Mushrooms]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

A 10-inch enameled skillet
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions (optional)
Salt and pepper

Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating that it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.

Toss the shallots or green onions with the mushrooms. Sauté over moderate heat for 2 minutes.

Sautéed mushrooms may be cooked in advance, set aside, then reheated when needed. Season to taste just before serving.


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