I recently took an interest in Anthony Bourdain after his guest post over at Ruhlman’s blog. I read Kitchen Confidential, after which I will think twice about going to restaurants. I also got his Les Halles Cookbook. I love his style of writing, a mixture of irreverence and wit, although there were times while reading Kitchen Confidential that I would blush.
A dish in his Les Halles Cookbook caught my eye. The classic Coq Au Vin. I have seen a lot of recipes for this dish and I decided it was about time to make it. How interesting can you make chicken? Quite interesting if you load it up with wine ;).
Coq Au Vin ,translating to “rooster with wine” in French, is simply chicken stewed in wine. It is a staple of French Cuisine and a standard of bistro cooking. It is traditionally made with roosters since they have enough connective tissue to produce a rich and savory sauce.
At first glance, the process appears complicated, but Bourdain quickly addresses this in his recipe, trouncing that initial impression by stating that it is relatively simple to make.
“Mise en place”, or having ingredients and utensils ready, is very important. Bourdain suggests allotting a leisurely afternoon to make Coq au Vin. He also interjects the comment that between the stages of cooking, you should have a glass of wine from the vino left over from the recipe. Now how cool is that?
I was so confident that I could make this dish that I actually invited guests over for dinner. They were my close friends, so in case the chicken turned out tasting nasty we could always order pizza and it would not be too embarrassing. Actually, the “hungry” hubby was also grilling some lamb chops, so there was a fallback.
The dish was not without its challenges. It had nothing to do with the recipe, but more to do with the circumstances that surrounded the making of it. First of all, we lost electricity the night before for 12 freaking hours! I was dubious about using the chicken that I had sitting in the refrigerator, so I decided to buy another one the following morning. Secondly, I did not know how country bacon looked–or lardons for that matter. The person behind the meat counter at our local supermarket had no idea either, so I bought something that I thought looked like country bacon. After I sautéed it though, I decided to just throw it out because it tasted like cardboard and did not look even remotely appetizing. If only I had the time to go to the butcher shop located downtown – they make their own bacon and also have Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie featured so prominently in the store- I’m sure they would know exactly what I needed.
I was not able to marinate the chicken overnight as the recipe suggested, but I did get it into the wine mixture for at least six hours before cooking. I also planned the crème-brulee-filled almond tea cake for dessert, so that took up some prep time — so much for a leisurely afternoon.
Without the bacon though, I don’t know if I could call this a Coq-au-vin. Oh well.
Adapted from the Les Halles Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain
1 bottle/1 liter plus 1 cup/225 ml of red wine
1 onion, cut into a 1-inch/2.5 cm dice
1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch/6-mm slices
1 celery rib, cut into ½ inch/1-cm slices
4 whole cloves
1 tbs/14 g whole black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni (2 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig parsley, 1 bay leaf wrapped in cheesecloth and tied
with a string )
1 whole chicken, about 3.5 lb/1.35 kg, “trimmed” – meaning guts, wing tips and neckbone
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbs/28 ml olive oil
6 tbs/75 g butter, softened
1 tbs/14 g flour
¼ lb/112 g slab or country bacon, cut into small oblongs (lardons) about ¼ by 1 inch/6mm by
½ lb/ 225 g small, white button mushrooms, stems removed
12 pearl onions, peeled
pinch of sugar
3 large, deep bowls
large Dutch oven or heavy –bottomed pot
small sauté pan
small sauce pan
1 sheet parchment paper
deep serving platter
The day before you even begin to cook, combine the bottle of red wine, the diced onion (that’s the big onion, not the pearl onions), sliced carrots, celery, cloves, peppercorns, and bouquet garni in a large deep bowl. Add the chicken and submerge it in the liquid so that all of it is covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat it dry. Put it aside. Strain the marinade through the fine strainer, reserving the liquids and solids separately. Season the chicken with salt and pepper inside and out. In the large Dutch oven, heat the oil and 2tablesppoons/28 g of the butter until almost smoking, and then sear the chicken, turning it with the tongs to evenly brown it. Once browned, it should be removed from the pot and set it aside again. Add the reserved onions, celery, and carrot to the pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden brown. That should take about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and mix well with the wooden spoon so that the vegetables are coated. Now stir in the reserved strained marinade. Put the chicken back in the pot, along with the bouquet garni. Cook this for about 1 hour and 15 minutes over low heat.
Have a drink. You’re almost there…
While your chicken stews slowly in the pot, cook the bacon lardons in the small sauté pan over medium heat until golden brown. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain it on paper towels, making sure to keep about 1 tablespoon/14 g of fat in the pan. Saute the mushroom tops in the bacon fat until golden brown. Set them aside.
Now, in the small saucepan, combine the pearl onions, the pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2tablespoons/28 g of butter. Add just enough water to just cover the onions; then cover the pan with the parchment paper trimmed to the same size of the pan. (I suppose you can use foil if you must.) Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the water has evaporated. Keep a close eye on it. Remove the paper cover and continue to cook until the onions are golden brown. Set the onions aside and add the remaining cup/225 ml of red wine along with salt and pepper and reduce over medium-high heat until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
Your work is pretty much done here. One more thing and then it’s wine and kudos…
When the chicken is cooked through – meaning tender, the juice from the thigh running clear when pricked – carefully remove from the liquid, cut into quarters, and arrange on the deep serving platter. Strain the cooking liquid (again) into the reduced red wine. Now just add the bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons/28 g of butter. Now pour that sauce over the chicken and dazzle your friends with your brilliance. Serve with buttered noodles and a Bourgone Rouge.
Right before the guests arrived, I had a taste of this aromatic chicken dish. I was very pleased with the results. All the herbs in this dish combined to give an extremely complex sauce that was exploding with flavor. The chicken was falling off the bone (maybe that’s why they used a rooster in the old days–so it would still be quite firm after this long cooking time). I did not even have to use a knife to cut it up, I just pulled the parts off. Okay, I did have to cut the backbone off, but most of the cartilage just melted into the thickened sauce.
I did have a gripe with the pearl onions. How the heck do you peel the skin off these?! I think I massacred these little jewels, because they fell apart when I was simmering them in butter and water. I might have added too much water as well. I ended up throwing out the rest of the liquid (shame on me, I know), adding some butter back and letting the onions caramelize to produce a fond. I can hear Bourdain right now in his acerbic tongue, berating me for doing this. I must hand it to the man; even through a cookbook, he manages to instill a sense of accountability about doing things right. I also had a problem in reducing the wine (sheepish grin) or maybe I was panicking because the doorbell just rang and my guests had arrived!
Anyhoo, I acted like I knew what I was doing, mixed the cooking liquid with the new wine reduction (or non-reduction), and nobody except moi knew the difference! I do have lessons in sauces coming up this Tuesday in my culinary arts class, so you can be quite sure that I’ll be asking a gazillion questions of my chef instructor. I will keep this post updated on my findings.
Like any other stew, the Coq-au-vin tasted better the next day when all the herbs and spices had managed to further infuse the sauce and the chicken with their amazing combination.
I was quite rueful that I did not have the bacon for the dish. I know how bacon fat can add such an otherworldly taste to food. Also, I failed to attain the Zen-like pleasurable calm that Bourdain stated this recipe MIGHT bring at the end of its cooking. That means I’ll have to make this dish again, and I definitely look forward to that time.
Bourdain also suggested, as an improvisation, the use of pig or chicken blood as a thickener. I am wiling to give this a try in the future only if I am sure of the freshness and source of this unusual thickener. Blood makes the sauce set up pretty quickly, so it is prudent to add this slowly. Apparently it freezes very well too, so I guess I just have to convince the “hungry” hubby that it is okay to have a culinary blood bank in the freezer.
I’ll leave you some words of wisdom from Bourdain regarding this dish “ … this is the kind of dish you might enjoy spending a leisurely afternoon with. There are plenty of opportunities for breaks. It’s durable, delicious, and the perfect illustration of the principles of turning something big and tough and unlovely into something truly wonderful. Knock out your prep one thing at a time, slowly building your mise en place. Listen to some music while you do it. There’s an open bottle of wine left from the recipe, so have a glass now and again.”