Good God, this was a good meal!
I'd been wanting to make an authentic Coq au vin for over a year. It was all part of a sudden desire to revisit some of the classic dishes from my childhood that swept over me in the fall of 2004. I can't actually remember any specific occasions when I had Coq au vin as a young lad, but, along with Coquilles St. Jacques, Lobster Thermidor, and Beef Wellington, it was nevertheless one of the dishes that attained quasi-mythical status in my mind during those years. There was something about their names and the way people around me (parents, grandparents, etc.) talked about them.
A few weeks ago, my parents and I were once again reminiscing about Julia Child, mourning her loss, and discussing her impact. Soon afterwards I thought again about making Coq au vin and Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 seemed like the only appropriate place to turn. When we finally got around to serving this meal about 2 weeks ago now, we toasted Julia and her legacy, and I've since thought of the meal as our Julia Child Memorial Meal.
Child's recipe worked like a charm. Every step made perfect sense and achieved the desired result, and I especially enjoyed the effect flambéing with cognac had on the chicken, but the way the beurre manié transformed the sauce was truly a thing of beauty. An already impressive wine-based sauce developed a depth of character that was almost hard to believe, and like so many other classics of French cuisine, the ingredients were rather simple, it was the way they were combined that elevated them.
We used a young, 3-lb + chicken, but I talked to the counterwoman at Vito about the meal I was going to be making as she was ringing me through and she recommended that the next time I order a slightly more mature bird, or, even better, a capon (appropriately enough). She insisted that the meat on such birds would hold up to the stewing better and that the meat would be even more flavorful. After all, like most other stews, a recipe like Coq au vin was first conceived as a way of tenderizing meat that may have needed it. Next time--and, I guarantee you, that won't be long--I'll try her advice.
I didn't make any significant changes to Child's recipe--why would I?--although the method I used for the bacon (see below) was slightly different than the method she recommended. Otherwise, I followed her recipe very closely. I used a nice, full-bodied French Burgundy as my cooking wine. The rest of the ingredients were very reasonable, so I splurged a little on the wine. You can use "cooking wine" for a recipe like this, but there's no question that the flavors are going to be richer if you use a decent wine (one you can actually drink, one that actually tastes good).
This recipe made enough to feed 4 people generously on two occasions. The first time I served it, I served it with mashed potatoes, bread, salad, and an even nicer bottle of French Burgundy than the bottle I used to make the Coq au vin. On Day 2 I served it with a gratin Dauphinois, braised carrots, a salad, and a Brouilly, and the flavors of the stew, as well as the combination it was served with, might have very well surpassed Day 1.
If you don't own Mastering the Art of French Cooking you really should think about it (and if you sniff around like we did, you can find very nice hardbound editions at a very reasonable price at some of your better secondhand bookstores, like we did), but until then, here's Julia Child's Coq au vin recipe:
Coq au vin
3-4 oz chunk of lean bacon, or pre-cut lardons
2 tbsp butter
2 1/2 - 3 lb frying chicken, cut into sections
1/2 tsp salt + more salt to taste
1/8 tsp pepper + more pepper to taste
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine
1 - 2 cups brown chicken stock
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/4 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
*12 - 24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)
**1/2 lb sauteed mushrooms (recipe follows)
3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp softened butter
several sprigs fresh parsley
Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons (1/4" x 1" long rectangles). Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.
Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in a stove-proof casserole.
Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole or pot with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (instructions follow).
Also, pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Simmer the chicken cooking liquied in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Adjust the seasoning. Remove the reduced cooking liquid from the heat, then discard the bay leaf.
Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste. What Child calls beurre manié. Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whisk. Bring to a simmer, stirring all the while, and simmer for 1-2 minutes. The sauce will thicken up nicely and it "should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly" when it's done.
Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onion around it, and baste with the sauce.
Place the casserole in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes.
Serve warm from the casserole with a vegetable side or two, crusty bread, butter, a salad, and a nice bottle of red wine.
18-24 peeled white onions, about 1" in diameter
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup of red wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp thyme)
Heat the butter and oil in a 9- to 10-inch enameled skillet. When they begin to bubble, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions around so that they brown evenly as possible and being careful not to break their skins.
Pour in the wine, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet.
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
1/2 lb small fresh mushrooms, washed, dried, and left whole
Place a 10-inch enameled skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 is now available in a 40th anniversary edition. It is published by Knopf.
Special thanks to Convivium for providing the source material for the illustration above.