This post is a bit more special than any other post to date, for reasons that are threefold:
1. I received a Vitamix (!) for Christmas from my incredibly kind Mother-in-law.
2. This is my 100th post.
3. I finally made a recipe that I had promised my better half for 2+ years.
Singularly, I think we can all agree that any of these things are reason to crack open a bottle of bubbly . To start, I’ve been lusting over a Vitamix blender for years – to the end that I fawned over them at least on a weekly basis and forced the husband to watch endless YouTube demonstrations on their magical abilities. Each time I would make a puree or soup, I would lament that although good, they just weren’t as smooth as they could be. Well times they are a-changin‘ around here, and the days of crying over graininess or errant lumps in anything I have processed within an inch of it’s life are over, and I am so thankful and happy. (Thank you Izzi!)
Second, this is my 100th (one-hundredth!) post! For months I have watched the little post-tally-er on my sidebar slowly taunt me, for when it felt that I had already hit ‘Publish’ at least a hundred times, it scoffed and mwah-ha-ha’d at me, flashing numbers like “64th” and “71st” for what felt like months on end. I have to admit, I’m pleased to have made that sucker read into the triple digits before twenty-twelve graced us with her presence.
And last, but most certainly not in the least, I have finally, finally, finally made a classic French recipe that I have been begged and pleaded for for over two years. You see, there has been a mythical recipe floating around these parts that goes by the name ‘Coq au Vin.’ I don’t recall James nor I had ever having eaten a proper rendition of this unicorn recipe, but something about the name tugged at his heartstrings, and whenever we would discuss what to try next, a hopeful “Coq au Vin” was predictably his answer – every.single.time.
I started and ended my search for the perfect recipe with a French cookbook that has never led me astray in the past: The Balthazar Cookbook. For those that have never lived in New York or been lucky enough to have been directed there while on vacation, Balthazar is a French brasserie in SoHo, run by famed restauranteur and culinary magnate Keith McNally. It was one of the very first ‘fancy’ restaurants I dined at while still a young trading assistant, and though there are many, many fine French restaurants in New York, I’ve always had a soft spot for this more casual one. With it’s popularity of course came crowds, long lines of tourists, and the unfortunate loss of it’s ’boutique’ feeling, but even still, I’ve never had a bad meal there.
The cookbook is surprisingly approachable, which I think alone in itself is a feat for French cooking. The recipe I found within for Coq au Vin was no exception; outside of the time factor (which admittedly is lengthy), no part of the recipe is one that even a novice cook could not manage. This is not a dish for a hurried weeknight; however with an overnight marinade, a bit of patience, and a few extra glasses of wine to lead you through the process, you are handsomely, and fantastically, rewarded.
For me, as for I suspect many home cooks, the enjoyment and ritual of prepping, chopping, and sauteing is only part of the reason why I love to be in the kitchen so much. An even bigger piece of that enjoyment puzzle is watching my dear friends and loved ones savor and appreciate something that I have created just for them. So much of that goes back to why I named this blog; you can just eat, or you can truly eat and relish every last bite.
And so it comes back to Coq au Vin, something which I actually feared may have built itself up just a bit too much. Very literally, coq au vin translates to ‘rooster in wine,’ and is a traditional French dish whereupon old stewing hen or rooster (or now, more commonly and thankfully, chicken) is braised in wine with vegetables, lardons, mushrooms, and onions. Very simple and plain sounding really – and from outward appearances, maybe not even something worth all of our hoopla.
These things after all do have a tendency to get ahead of themselves at times, and I’ll admit that although I knew the final product would be delicious – how amazing could stewed chicken really be, anyway? As I stood the evening before preparing the chicken, carrots, onions, and garlic for their twenty-four hour wine and herb bath, James sniffed around and inquired about every ingredient on the cutting board. He returned home from work the following day, and ‘checked’ on the marinating concoction, even though it was sitting in exactly the same position I had left it at the night before.
When it finally came time to cook, I setup shop in the kitchen, and rustled up a husband, a pug, and an extra glass of wine to keep me company during the next couple hours of prep. We seared, we stirred, we reduced, and we simmered; we combined, we strained, we re-combined, and we simmered once more. Though there are quite a few steps involved, as I said before, none at all are complicated, and suddenly we were faced, finally, with a big, bubbling, cauldron of proper Coq au Vin.
I whipped up a puree of parsnips and potatoes in my new (amazing) Vitamix, and the silken texture was the perfect base upon which to nuzzle a rich saucy chicken leg, velvety mushrooms, and tender onions. We sat down to eat, and that familiar quietness overtook the room where you just know means you’ve got something special on your hands. James looked up at me with a huge grin, and said between mouthfuls “you know, I’ve always envisioned how coq au vin would taste, and I’ve even thought it to be just like this…but this…..this is even better than I ever imagined.”
This, my friends, is one tasty dish. It ranks up there with some of my most favorite things I have ever made, and will definitely be squeezing itself in to be made at least a few times a year. The chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender, and the wine based sauce is thick, luscious, and deeply flavored. The ingredients are neither fancy nor expensive, and although I would not venture to call this healthy, there is no butter, cream, or cheese involved, with the richness coming instead from the long braise, bold flavors, and repeated reducing.
It is also one of those wonderful things that can be made ahead of time and reheated; the flavor of the sauce and texture of the chicken will only improve with time, and knowing that I will be treated to this again tonight (with no dishes to boot!) is a really fantastic thing. I implore you to make this for your next dinner party, fancy shindig, loved one’s birthday, or lazy saturday.
Trust me — it is as good as it looks.
Coq au Vin with Potato Parsnip Puree
Coq au Vin Adapted just barely from The Balthazar Cookbook;
Parsnip and Potato Puree my own recipe
Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers for the next night
The author states “Though currently synonymous with chicken, Coq au Vin was originally made by braising the meat from a sinewy old rooster in cheap red wine for a long period of time.” I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that chicken is the preferred meat….a sinewy old rooster just doesn’t have the same delicious ring to it, no?
I made a few changes here: I upped the tomato paste (up to 3 Tbsp from 2), for my bouquet garni I simply used thyme, rosemary, and 2 bay leaves, I used beef stock in place of the called for veal stock, and I completely omitted the parsley, which they suggest stirring in at the end (I do not generally keep parsley on hand as I am not wild about it). The book specifies to use domestic mushrooms, but next time I think I will try a mixture of chanterelle, shiitake, button, and cinnamon caps – just for fun and a change of texture.
Season each layer and component with salt and pepper, but be careful when seasoning the sauce; as it reduces the flavors will intensify, and if you flavor the sauce to your liking before reducing, the end result may be too salty/concentrated. I recommend salting each step (ie, salt the chicken, vegetables, mushrooms, onions, etc) to ensure that you have layers of flavor, but then waiting until just before serving to adjust the salt level of the actual sauce.
4 large chicken legs (I used 5, to have ample leftovers)
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1cm dice
1 large carrot, cut into 1cm dice
2 celery stalks, cut into medium dice
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1 bottle of red wine
1 bouquet garni
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons plain flour
3 cups beef stock
1 pint pearl onions, peeled (I used a frozen bag of them – much easier than peeling those tiny things)
1/2 lb thick cut smoked bacon, cut into a dice
1 lb small button mushrooms
parsnip and potato puree
3 large or 5 medium parsnips, peeled and cubed
2 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
milk (1%, 2%, or whole) – about 2 cups
tools – large dutch oven with a lid
In a large bowl, combine the chicken legs, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, wine and bouquet garni. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours (I had mine marinating for almost 24 hours exactly).
Remove the legs from the marinade and set to the side. Strain the vegetables from the marinade, reserving the liquid marinade and marinated vegetables separately. The legs will have a deep purple hue from the wine; season them liberally with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. When it begins to smoke, add the legs skin side down, in batches if necessary, being sure not to crowd the pan – I . Brown evenly and deeply on all sides, about 8 minutes per side – do not skimp on this step, as there is where a lot of the finished flavor will come from. Set the finished legs to the side on a plate and discard the oil; replenish it between batches as necessary.
When you have finished browning the legs, reduce the heat to medium and add the reserved vegetables to the pot. Cook until they soften and begin to brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes, then add the flour, stirring again for about 2 minutes. Add the reserved wine marinade and, as it bubbles up, use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot and incorporate any flavourful bits into the broth. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, about 20 to 25 minutes, then add in the stock. As it reaches the boil, add in the seared chicken legs and any accumulated juices, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Maintain a slow and gentle simmer on the lowest temperature setting for 1 hour, at which point the meat should be meltingly tender and come easily off the bone when pried with a fork.
Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients: blanch the pearl onions in boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender (I used frozen which are already peeled & therefore did not need to do this step), and drain and set aside. Cook the bacon in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until brown, about 10 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Add the mushrooms to the pan and the now very hot rendered bacon fat, and saute, tossing frequently, until they are golden brown, about 8 minutes. When they are golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon and reserve to the side. Add the blanched pearl onions (or simply add the frozen pearl onions straight to the pan) to the pan, sautéing until they too are brown, about 5 minutes. Reserve to the side, in the same bowl as the mushrooms.
Prepare the puree. Place the peeled and cubed potatoes and parsnips into a saucepan. Cover with a combination of milk and water, about 1/2 of each (you will most likely need 1.5 – 2 cups each water & milk to cover adequately). Bring to a boil, and then reduce to medium high heat to cook until tender (watch the pot carefully, as the milk will give the mixture a tendency to boil over). When the vegetables are fork tender, about 25 minutes, strain, and reserve the hot milk and water mixture. Puree the potatoes and parsnips in a blender or food processor, adding the reserved liquid to loosen the mixture up as needed, until you have a smooth, silky, puree. Take care not to over process, as the potatoes will become gummy. Season with salt & pepper to taste, and reserve to the side in the saucepan you cooked them in until ready to plate. Should you need to warm them up at all, just place the saucepan over medium-low heat, and stir frequently to prevent scorching.
Remove the legs from the braising liquid and strain the contents of the pot, reserving the liquid and discarding the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a strong simmer over medium high heat, and skim the surface of the sauce as it bubbles, removing any visible fat. When the sauce has reduced by half, taste, and adjust for seasoning. Add salt & pepper as necessary (I found that I needed to add a good bit of both at this stage). Return the legs to the pot along with the cooked bacon, the onions, and the mushrooms and simmer for an additional 15 minutes to combine the flavors.
To serve, spoon 1/4 of the parsnip potato puree on each plate. Top with a chicken leg, and then spoon the gravy over the top. Serve immediately.
Inhale & smile!