Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Amusing Yourself on a Long Winter’s Day
What’s cooking? Coq au Vin

Brrrr!! Winter has suddenly descended on Austin. Yes, even here in sunny Texas, we get winter, though we are such wusses that we now think temperatures in the 40s are a hardship. It works out pretty well for kitchen geeks, as it’s a great time to make stews and soups and such without the guilt of missing a great afternoon in the outdoors. Also, January is the month for “cedar fever” [read = pollen attack/sinus overload] here, which for me is another great excuse to stay inside.

So while my husband and friends watched the two football games on Sunday, I tested out a recipe. I love having a whole afternoon when I’m just alone in the kitchen to play. I fired up my little kitchen TV, tuned it to “Law & Order SVU,” and started cooking. After watching Elliot and Olivia and the gang faithfully for many years, I got tired of that franchise at some point, so the re-runs from the most recent seasons are actually fresh for me. What a treat.

This time, I wanted to test out a version of coq au vin that claimed to be easier and simpler than Julia’s. Now, I’ve made Julia’s coq au vin, which is totally divine, and I’ll grant you that it is a long process. Not hard – just long. And if you have some looming deadline like guests arriving, well then, it can be a little nerve-wracking. So a shorter, easier version of a completely yummy dish would be nice.

This recipe – adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated (CI) magazine’s preparation – definitely has fewer steps than Julia’s. But that’s like saying that climbing Kilimanjaro takes fewer steps than Everest – it’s still not for sissies. The CI folks say theirs takes only 90 minutes, versus 2½ hours for “conventional” recipes.

I have a teeny bone to pick with that claim, because of that 90 minutes, 60 of it is pure cooking time, with no allowances for, oh, moving the chicken from the plate to the pan then back to the plate, then back to the pan, melting the butter, getting the pan to the appropriate heat level, ... you know what I mean. And then of course there's the prep time, which if you are not Gordon or Giada or Emeril is at least another half hour, and that’s with no time to field a question from a family member or answer the phone or even pour a glass of wine. So this “modern” version still took me almost 3 hours, though I must confess to occasionally getting distracted by the television. If you pay less attention to the TV and are better organized – and most of you are – and you get your mise en place, um, en place so to speak, you might whittle it down to 2 hours. I expect that’s the best you can do. Much will also depend on how free of fat globs your thighs are. (Hmmm...That would be the chicken thighs.) The chicken from my Texas grocer isn’t nearly as well trimmed as the stuff from my New Jersey grocer.

In any case, my hubby and friends and I loved this dish. Julia serves coq au vin with boiled potatoes, but I served it on top of inch-wide egg noodles. One of my guests suggested that next time, I should have some crusty French bread to sop up the sauce, as he hated the idea of leaving even a spoonful. I agreed. The sauce smells deeply of the wine and herbs, thick and velvety without being heavy or fatty, and the chicken is moist and tender. So it’s well worth the time, and not hard.

I served it with an excellent salad of romaine lettuce, shaved fennel, shaved radishes, and cubes of pear, with an herbed vinaigrette. You could also try roasted or steamed asparagus.

Kitchen Goddess note: I got my thick-cut bacon from Whole Foods, where I can buy just the 4 ounces, which may cost more per ounce but you don’t end up with 12 extra ounces of bacon in the fridge. In any case, it wasn’t as fatty as I needed. I had barely more than 1 tablespoon for sautéing the chicken, so I cooked the first half in the bacon fat that was there, and added 1½  tablespoons of olive oil to the pan before cooking the second half of the chicken. You really need 1½ tablespoons per batch with that much chicken – especially if you’re as careful as I am about trimming the chicken fat.

For the wine, I used a pinot noir. It occupies a nice mid-point on the spectrum between a cabernet (too heavy) and a Beaujolais (too light). As to quality/price, you don’t have to spend a lot, but remember: if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food

Coq au Vin

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

1 bottle (750 ml) medium-bodied red wine (CI suggests a fruity pinot noir or a granache)
2 cups good chicken stock
10 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley plus 2 tablespoons freshly minced flat-leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces
olive oil (in case your bacon doesn’t render enough fat)
2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
30 frozen pearl onions (about 1 cup), thawed and patted dry
8 ounces Crimini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, cut in half if small, in quarters if large
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour

Pat the chicken pieces dry using paper towels, trim the fat, and cut them in half crosswise. Lightly salt and pepper both sides.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together all but 1 tablespoon of the red wine (reserve for later use), chicken stock, parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring the mix to a low boil and cook 20-25 minutes, until the liquid is reduced to 3 cups. Strain out the herbs and set aside the wine-stock mixture.

While the wine-stock-herbs are reducing, cook the bacon in a large (4.5-quart) Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 7-8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving 3 tablespoons bacon fat in a small bowl, and discard remaining fat. If you don’t have 3 tablespoons rendered from the bacon, add olive oil to fill in.

Return Dutch oven to medium-high heat. Add 1½ tablespoons bacon fat and heat until just smoking. Add half the chicken, in a single layer, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate. Add remaining 1½ tablespoons bacon fat to the pan, heat until just smoking, and sauté remaining chicken. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in the 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 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring frequently, until well-combined, about 1 minute.

Pour in the reduced wine-stock mixture, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. (This technique, of incorporating the fond – the browned bits – into the sauce, is called deglazing.) Add ¼ teaspoon pepper, the cooked chicken (with any accumulated juices) and the bacon. Increase the heat to high and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through the cooking time.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken, mushrooms, and onions to a large bowl; cover the bowl with aluminum foil to keep warm. Increase heat under the sauce to medium-high and simmer about 5 minutes, until it is thick and glossy. Remove from heat, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and reserved 1 tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the chicken, mushrooms, and onions to the pot and stir well. Top with minced parsley and serve immediately.

Serves 5-6.


  1. Sounds delicious. I like the Barefoot Contessa's recipe also.

  2. I haven't tried Barefoot Contessa's, but will take a look. I have Barefoot in Paris -- is it in there?

  3. Took me too much time to respond, but it's in Back to Basics. I was looking for a recipe to fix for my Chicken Foot group on Sunday and ran across this message to which I had not responded.