Monday, May 09, 2005

Recipe: Coq au Vin

Coq au vin is one of those classic French bistro dishes which is really easy to do but everyone makes out to be formidably difficult. I have a theory that the recipes you get off cookbooks and chefs are needlessly complicated and never work anyway - the chefs just want to dupe you into coming to their restaurant to see how they do it.

Anyway, why is coq au vin easy? It's one of those dishes that virtually takes care of itself. You can even prepare it in the morning and leave the day free for you to do more important things like wax your legs or gardening.

This recipe comes off the grand old dame herself, Julia Child who, bless her soul, could do with some simplifying.

But first, the meez.

Ingredients (Serves 8)

8 strips of bacon
8 chicken legs
3 cups red wine
1 cup veal stock
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
Sprigs of rosemary and thyme
2 bay leaves

36 pearl onions
450g mushrooms, sliced

3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp butter

Coq au vin mep

Not pictured are some chicken stock, and some mushrooms. The red wine you can buy for $15 from any supermarket, though we like to use Carrefour. The veal stock is somewhat optional, though it does give an added fillip. Look for it at Culina, it's usually about $14. The chicken we usually use the whole thigh and drumstick, you could probably use the other parts, but I've never tried. Trim off any excess fat you can from the chicken. The onions are pickled cocktail onions, you could use pearl onions if you find any, or very small normal onions which are a bitch to peel.

Give each person about one chicken leg and four onions, and a good portion of mushrooms (use your discretion). That's about 8 chickens, 36 onions and 12 white mushrooms for 8 people.

We use about one strip of bacon per chicken, and Julia would like you to cut it into lardons and blanche it first, but bless her soul, that's just too much work.

Bacon, pre-rendered

Chuck them into a frying pan or wok without any oil (they'll produce their own) and proceed to fry them up.

Pork fat!

When the bacon looks cooked and has rendered lots of fat you may remove it from the pan.

Onions and Chickens

Start browning the chicken in batches in the rendered bacon fat. Usually you wouldn't crowd the pan like that, but my sister has never been one for conventions and we were pressed for time. You can start browning the onions in some olive oil, too. Use extremely low heat for the onions, medium-high or high for the chickens.

Golden Brown

When the chickens are nicely browned on one side, flip them over and do the other side - try not to scald yourself with the oil. Don't expect them to be evenly browned, a few uncooked patches are acceptable.

I haven't forgotten about them onions - they should still be browning. Once they look brown enough, add in 4 - 5 tablespoons of brown sugar and let the sugar start to caramelise over very low heat.

Dump the chickens into a big metal pot with 3 cups (1 bottle) red wine, 1 cup veal stock, 1 cup chicken stock (or 2 cups chicken stock if you don't have veal), 2 cloves mashed garlic, 1 tablespoon tomato paste/ketchup, 2 bay leaves and a handful of rosemary and thyme leaves. You may use a bouquet garni if you wish.

Do not discard your frying pan with the remaining chicken grease.

Bring it up to a boil and then let it simmer for an hour or until the chicken meat falls off the bone. Julia says simmer, and not to overcook the chicken, but she can be open to interpretation, bless her soul. Don't worry about overcooking it because it's hard to overcook a stew. You can boil it for half an hour and then let it simmer for the next half if your guests are on the way. Experiment and see what works for you.

Meanwhile, your sugar and onions should be caramelising, not burning. Add in some water (2 tablespoons) to dissolve the sugar and form a thick syrup. Once that's done, turn off the fire and cover the saucepan, letting the onions macerate in the syrup until it's time to use them.

Mushroom madness

Wash and slice your mushrooms, and heat up your leftover chicken grease (or olive oil, if you've forgotten what I said and thrown out the chicken grease). Once the grease/oil is almost smoking, throw in your mushrooms and saute them till they're nice and brown and starting to glisten with mushroom juice.

Once your chicken is done (meat falling off the bone) remove them carefully to a side plate. Measure out 3 tablespoons flour and 3 tablespoons butter and blend them into a smooth paste (all the flour should have disappeared). Whisk this into your sauce, and continue whisking over high heat until the sauce starts to thicken. Warm up your bacon, mushrooms and onions and dump them into the sauce.

Coq au Vin

Place the chicken on individual plates and spoon the sauce, with the bacon, mushrooms and onions over it. Serve hot and await the praise.

Leftovers can be kept, covered, in the fridge and reheated. This is a dish that improves with age, so don't throw it out!

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