I used to refer to Julia Child as Saint Julia. She was revered by millions, was responsible for the miraculous daily transsubstantiation of base ingredients into delicious meals, and was certainly prayed to in an effort to avert uncountable kitchen disasters. If that doesn’t qualify one for sainthood these days, I don’t know what does.
Last Saturday, August 15th, was Julia’s birthday, and I had decided to cook a meal from one of her cookbooks on that date from now on. Of course, I picked the hottest weekend of the summer to initiate this soon-to-be tradition, so I needed a recipe that wouldn’t require firing up the oven. I had done that once before (see the second paragraph of this post), and it wasn’t pleasant.
Coq au Vin met all of my requirements: simple, tasty, not too labor intensive, and able to be prepared on the stovetop. I gathered my ingredients: one chicken, a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, tomato paste, cognac, a quart of homemade chicken stock, crimini mushrooms, fresh thyme, bay leaves, dry-rubbed bacon, garlic, and cippollini onions:
I cut 4 ounces of the bacon into 1/4 inch wide lardons, simmered them in water for 10 minutes to remove some of the saltiness, rinsed them in cold water and dried them.
Since I chose to use fresh onions instead of my usual frozen pearl onions, the next step was peeling and trimming the onions. I added them to a pan with 1 1/2 tablespoons each of butter and oil over medium heat.
I tossed them for 10 minutes until they browned, then added a 1/2 cup of stock, some parsley, thyme, and half a bay leaf, and simmered the onions over low heat for 50 minutes.
While the onions cooked, I washed and quartered the mushrooms.
I browned the bacon in 2 tablespoons of butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. I couldn’t believe it either, who browns bacon in butter? But Julia commands, so what choice did I have?
While the bacon cooked, I cut the chicken into pieces, saving the backbone and wings for the stockpot.
I removed and drained the bacon, then browned the chicken in the bacon fat. After 10 minutes I returned the bacon to the pot, covered it, and cooked the chicken over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Next came the fun part: I uncovered the pot, poured in a quarter cup of cognac, and set it on fire. Fire!
After the flames subsided and I checked my eyebrows for singeing, I added 3 cups of the wine, 1/2 tablespoon of tomato paste, the garlic, thyme, and a bay leaf to the pot, then added enough chicken stock to cover the chicken. I covered the pot again, and simmered everything for 30 minutes.
The onions were finally ready:
I removed them to a separate bowl and added the remaining cooking liquid to the simmering chicken. Then I sauteed the mushrooms until lightly browned.
I removed the chicken and pulled off the skin.
I reduced the cooking liquid by about a third, corrected the seasoning, and removed the bay leaf and thyme stems. While the sauce reduced, I pulled the chicken off the bones, and made a beurre manié from 3 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of butter.
I added some of the sauce to the paste to thin it out, then whicked the mixture back into the pot, simmering to thicken.
I returned the chicken, mushrooms, onions, and the last quarter cup of wine to the pot and simmered to reheat.
I served the coq au vin over the traditional buttered noodles.
The dish tasted just the way I remembered, with a different contribution from the onions. They were barely holding together after their braise, so they melted into the sauce. Even He Who Will Not Be Ignored was impressed, giving the meal a rare double thumbs-up.
I was impressed that a recipe that’s almost 50 years old has withstood the test of time so well, requiring no updating at all to take into account changes in the quality of the ingredients. It just proves it’s hard to go wrong with chicken, mushrooms, onions, wine, and , or course, bacon.
I made dessert as well, but that’s for the next post.