Sunday, February 7, 2016

Coq au Vin

It was C.’s turn to cook last Wednesday and for inspiration, she pulled out the November/December 2006 edition of Cook’s Illustrated.  

It’s comforting to know that some things never change.

Anyway, A. told us that she has subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated for many years and each year, for Christmas, Mr. A. gives her the bound compilation of recipes from that year.  She, in turn, bundles the individual magazines from that year, ties a bow around them and gifts them to one of her lucky friends.  In 2006, it appears that lucky friend was C.!

In this edition of the magazine, there is a treasure-trove of culinary gems, including a gussied-up version of Green Bean Casserole, Penne alla Vodka (that I will make to see if it stands up to mine!), Chocolate Pots de Creme (that I will also be making!) and Coq au Vin, which literally translated means Cock in Wine.  

C. made us the Coq au Vin.

If you are familiar with Cooks Illustrated,  then you know the stories and preparation that precede the recipe are just as informative (and entertaining!) as the recipe itself.  The goal for the provincial favorite — Coq au Vin — was to reduce the 2 1/2 hours of cooking time and still produce chicken succulent enough to make any country French cook swoon.

Coq au Vin was originally made with roosters no longer suitable for breeding. To make the tough meat tender, it was cooked for hours in wine, mushrooms, carrots, onions and herbs.   Modern haute-cuisinesque recipes that Cooks Illustrated researched shaved some time off the recipe preparation but those versions still seemed a bit fancy for this rustic French chicken stew that has its roots in basic, simple cooking.  So after some trial-and-error, the recipe below was the hands-down favorite and published winner.  It takes half the time to prepare, uses boneless chicken thighs (that tolerate a longer cooking time nicely), is packed with rich and complex flavors and returns the recipe to its humble beginnings.   And to quote Cooks Illustrated “no past-its-prime rooster required.”

Cooks Illustrated’s, Sandra Wu, also notes that “a medium-bodied, fruity red wine such as pinot noir or Rhöne Valley grenache is best for this recipe….avoid bold, heavily oaked red wine varietals like cabernet, and light-boded wines like Beaujolais.”  Use mushrooms with a earthy quality such as cremini, which is merely a more mature version of the common white button mushroom.

Serve immediately over with egg noodles or mashed potatoes.  C. served with mashed potatoes and crusty rolls to help us sop up every last bit of the wine-based and totally delicious sauce.  

Licking the plate was optional with judgment suspended.

Coq au Vin
Cooks Illustrated

1 bottle (750 ml) medium- bodied red wine, divided
2 cups chicken stock
10 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley plus 2 tbsp. freshly minced flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4 -in. pieces
21/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut in half crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
24 frozen pearl onions (about 1 c.), thawed and patted dry
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved if small, quartered if large
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. flour

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine all but 1 tablespoon of the red wine (reserving for later use), chicken stock, parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cook until mixture is reduced to 3 cups, about 20 to 25 minutes. Discard herbs and reserve wine-stock mixture.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook bacon, stirring occasionally, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in a small bowl, and discard remaining fat.

Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Return Dutch oven to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken, in a single layer, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate. Add remaining 1 tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking, and repeat with remaining chicken.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add pearl onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Add tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring frequently, until well-combined, about 1 minute.  Add reduced wine mixture, scraping bottom of pot with a spoon to loosen browned bits. Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper, cooked chicken (and any accumulated juices) and cooked bacon. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a large bowl and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until sauce is thick and glossy and measures about 31/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and reserved 1 tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to pot. Top with minced parsley and serve immediately over noodles or mashed potatoes.

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