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Coq au Vin

COQ AU VIN

I’ve long held a theory that most delicious food in the world was created when the people eating it had crap to make it from. This makes me popular at dinner parties, by the way. But I maintain that incredibly flavorful and satisfying foods like goulash, dirty rice, barbacoa (I could go on) develop in areas where the cooks are dirt poor and have to make the best of poor quality, sometimes disgusting ingredients. Nobody eats a cow’s head if they can possibly get the rest of the cow.

In that vein, one of my favorite dishes: Coq au Vin. Literally “rooster in wine”, this stew developed as a way to maximize poultry consumption; when a rooster got too old to perform his roosterly duties, his tough, grizzled body would be braised until tender in a very French combination of red wine, fatty bacon, mushrooms and garlic. As an added bonus, the firm ligaments add collagen, which increases the rich sheen and flavor off a well made batch of Coq Au Vin.

As I don’t usually have veteran roosters around to stew, I prepare a homogenized, less tradition version of the classic. Using breast meat decreases the fat content, but hey, that’s what bacon is for. Ideally, I like to serve it with whipped potatoes (the creamy flavor contrasts nicely with the acidity of the wine stew) and a bottle of the same stuff you use in the dish.

INGREDIENTS:

4 large skinless chicken breasts
4 ounces pepper bacon (fattier the better)
4 large sliced garlic cloves
1 cup pearl onions
1.5 cups halved, de-stemmed button mushrooms
3 tbsp flour (white or wheat, doesn’t matter)
1 bottle good red wine (pick a favorite, but lean toward the dry)
1 cup chicken broth or stock
Several sprigs fresh thyme, pulled from the stem (you can use dried, if you don’t care about flavor)
Salt & black pepper (I prefer kosher salt and cracked pepper)

First cut the chicken in pieces about ½ an inch wide and slice the bacon in thin strips. In a large saucepot (medium high heat), sauté the bacon until the fat is rendered; add the chicken and let it brown while occasionally turning to avoid sticking. When the chicken is mostly caramelized, add the garlic- be careful of adding it too early. The high sugar content of garlic causes it to brown at a much faster pace than chicken and can easily burn.

Once the garlic is nicely toasted, sprinkle the flour in the pot- stir quickly and firmly, coating the mixture in flour. Let cook until slightly browned and the whole dish has a slightly nutty scent. This is creating a very simple roux and will help thicken the stew later- add the pearl onions, mushrooms, salt, pepper and thyme.

Now add the wine, pouring relatively quickly. Stir so no chunks of flour mess up the smooth appearance of the finished dish, until the bottom of the pan feels relatively smooth. This is deglazing and really maximizes flavor- be careful as you add the wine, as the steam generated from the process can get pretty hot. You may not have to use the entire bottle, depending on how firm you’d like the dish to be. If you want a thicker, cassoulet-like stew (as I prefer), probably half the bottle will be sufficient.

Add the chicken broth/stock and reduce heat to medium, just keeping the dish at a simmer. Let it cook and reduce for about 30-40 minutes, and adjust salt and pepper to preference/necessity. The finished dish should be piquant, savory and delicious- ladle a good dose of chicken, bacon and wine over warm Yukon Gold potatoes, and prepare to be ready for seconds immediately. Serves 2-3.

by Nathan Kamal

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