Monday, July 30, 2012

Coq au Vin

This is definitely an impressive thing you should present at a dinner party.  Making it for your family is great, but anything that takes two days to journey onto the table is really for company.  The thing is, it's basically a stew.  A stew that takes an hour to prep, then let it sit for a minimum of 6 hours, then cook for at least two hours in the oven, followed by making the sauce for close to an hour.  But still, a stew.

What sparked me to this idea in general and Alton Brown's recipe in particular was the chance to use two bottles of Papa Smurf's accumulated wine.  For someone who didn't like red wine, he had an awful lot of it.  You actually need three bottles of the same kind, so you can serve one at the table.  After all the simmering and reducing, there isn't any alcohol left in the sauce.  The first 1.5 liters of wine are for flavor and to tenderize the meat.  The Bible has a recipe that uses only 1 cup of wine, fewer ingredients, and takes only a couple of hours.  I'm sure that one is valid, but I decided to use the one that makes a significant quantity of sauce.  And there is a lot of sauce; I put in a few extra pieces of chicken, and there was still more than enough.  The only aspect of the Bible's version that I carried over was using shallots for the stew's mirepoix instead of a regular onion.

I did follow Alton's instructions with raw pearl onions and mushrooms, but you could probably use canned mushrooms and canned or frozen onions.  I decided to follow the recipe this first time.  Quartering the mushrooms felt stupid when I was doing it (especially because it was 6 am), but they look very pretty that way.  Instead of buying salt pork, I used some bacon fat trimmings I had in the freezer.  When I needed a little extra fat for the mushrooms, I opted for olive oil instead of the butter in the recipe.  There's just SO MUCH fat and salt in this recipe!  Had to do something.

You'll notice that Alton's recipe specifies thighs and legs.  It takes dark meat to hold up to a rich wine like a pinot noir.  You could probably do this with turkey breast and achieve the same effect, but turkey dark meat might be too greasy.

I am seriously considering making this next Passover.  A few simple substitutions (schmaltz for pork fat, olive oil for butter, and matzoh cake meal for flour) makes it kosher for Passover, plus it fits into the wine theme of the night.

If you decide to make this, use the link to Alton's recipe for the printer-friendly version.  That way, you can take it with you to the market to make sure you don't forget an ingredient.  Then put it in a plastic sleeve so you can flip it when you need to go on to the second page.  Maybe use a highlighter on it or annotate.  I had no idea a stew could be this complicated.  Haul out the good china, because you're going to earn the right to use it!

24 to 30 pearl onions (I bought a 10oz bag)
4 chicken thigh-and-leg quarters, or individual thighs and legs (8 pieces total)
1/4 to 1/2 C flour
2 Tb water
6 oz salt pork, slab bacon, or lardon, cubed
8 oz button mushrooms, quartered
1 Tb unsalted butter
*2 (750ml) bottles red wine, preferably pinot noir
2 Tb tomato paste
1 medium onion or two shallots, quartered
*2 stalks celery, quartered
*2 medium carrots, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, or *1 Tb dried leaves
*1 bay leaf
2 C chicken stock or broth
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed

1.  Start boiling 2 to 3 cups water in a medium saucepan.  Cut off the root end of each pearl onion and make an X with your knife in its place.  Place the onions in the boiling water for about 1 minute.  Drain, allow to cool slightly, then squeeze the onions from the "handle" end so they pop out from inside their skins.  Discard skins and set aside onions.

2.  Sprinkle the chicken on all sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place the chicken pieces, a few at a time, into a large sealable plastic bag with the flour.  Shake to coat, then place pieces on a metal rack.

3.  Add the 2 Tb water to a large, 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat and add the salt pork.  Cover and cook until the water is gone, then uncover and continue to cook until the pork is golden brown and crispy and has given up its fat, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove pork and set aside in a 2 quart, sealable container.

4.  In the same pan, add the onions.  Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove onions and place them in the container with the pork cubes.  Next, brown the chicken pieces in the pan, working in batches if necessary.  Transfer the chicken to a 7 to 8-quart cast iron Dutch oven (or whatever large, oven-safe pot you have).  Add the mushrooms to the sauté pan, adding butter if the pan is too dry.  Cook until the mushrooms have given up their liquid, about 5 minutes.  Place the mushrooms in the container with the onions and store in the fridge until much, much later.

5.  Pour off any remaining fat and deglaze the pan with about 1 C of the wine.  Pour this into the Dutch oven along with the chicken stock, tomato paste, quartered onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.  (I multi-tasked and added those items while the chicken was browning.)  Add all of the remaining wine.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

6.  Three hours before serving, preheat oven to 325ºF.  Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, until the chicken is tender.  Maintain a very gentle simmer and stir occasionally.  (If your pot doesn't fit in the oven, you can do this on the stove, but you have to stir it every 15 minutes.)

7.  Once the chicken is done, remove it to an oven-safe serving platter and place it in a low oven (175º) to keep warm.  Strain the sauce in a colander to remove anything that isn't wine or broth and discard those bits.  Return the sauce to the pot and place over medium heat.  Reduce by 1/3, anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.  (If you can't get it as thick as you would like, knead together 1 Tb each butter and flour and whisk into sauce.  Cook for another 5 minutes to allow it to thicken.)

8.  Once the sauce has thickened, add the onions, mushrooms, and pork you stashed in the fridge and cook until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Spoon over chicken and serve.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating $@%!

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