Coq au vin: The ultimate comfort food


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Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2013, 10:13 am
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By Rick Nelson
Cold winter nights were made for coq au vin.

France's simmered-in-wine chicken classic, fortified with bacon, mushrooms and onions, follows a fairly basic stovetop technique. Depending upon the recipe, it can quickly come together, or with some effort.

I've made it the cheater way, utilizing a plastic oven bag, and I've tried a Crock-Pot version. Both fell into the not-awful side of the rate-a-dish spectrum, hardly a ringing endorsement.

I've followed a white wine-formula from "The Gourmet Cookbook"—the end result certainly was prettier, but it wasn't as winter weather-satisfying.

Julie Child's rendition, from her landmark "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," was of course delicious, but a few time-consuming steps didn't exactly make it fuss-free. Less complicated — but ultimately less flavor-filled — was a pared-down variation by Mark Bittman, he of "The Minimalist" fame.

When January rolls around, the recipe I've come to rely upon — the one that springs to mind each time I spy the Dutch oven in our kitchen — is from an increasingly tattered and wine-spattered six-year-old edition of Cook's Illustrated magazine.

The story follows a typical CI narrative. After yanking apart the dish's key components, writer Sandra Wu gets busy, tinkering and streamlining, with the goal of enhancing flavor rather than merely maintaining the status quo.

Among many smart ideas, she replaces a cut-up fryer with boneless thighs, taking advantage of the cut's rich taste and moist texture. Wu wisely eliminates the fuss of preparing pearl onions by using frozen ones, and she combines and reduces the wine and chicken stock in a separate saucepan. Smart.

Sure enough, in trademark Cook's Illustrated fashion, Wu's formula basically is foolproof (One of the benefits of subscribing to the magazine is it opens up access to the Americastestkitchen.com website, where you can watch a helpful how-to video on making the dish). As it cooks, the kitchen is perfumed by the scent of bacon, onions and wine, a truly hunger-inducing scent, and in less than 90 minutes there's an easygoing yet impressive supper.

An inexpensive red wine does the trick, and I like to embellish it by adding twice the amount of thyme, parsley and bay leaf. I'm usually a little more generous with the amount of bacon fat I use to fry the chicken. And the amount of chicken fairly is flexible; I've made it using three pounds, and it turned out just fine, with the added bonus of more leftovers.

Serve it with parsley-dressed potatoes, or rice. At our house, we usually pair it with the buttery, golden rice pilaf my partner Robert learned how to make from his late mother, Catherine David.

"I've been making this pilaf since I was probably seven years old," he said. "When I was growing up, we had it every Sunday." One taste, and you'll know why. It's terrific, and a perfect complement to coq au vin.

Modern Coq au Vin
Note: From Cook's Illustrated magazine. "A medium-bodied, fruity red wine such as pinot noir or Rhöne Valley grenache is best for this recipe," writes author Sandra Wu. "Avoid bold, heavily oaked red wine varietals like cabernet, and light-bodied wines like Beaujolais."
1 bottle (750 ml) medium- bodied red wine, divided
2 cups chicken stock
10 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley plus 2 tablespoons freshly minced flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut in half crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
24 frozen pearl onions (about 1 cup), thawed and patted dry
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved if small, quartered if large
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour


In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine all but one tablespoon of the red wine (reserving for later use), chicken stock, parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cook until mixture is reduced to three cups, about 20 to 25 minutes. Discard herbs and reserve wine-stock mixture.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook bacon, occasionally stirring, until browned, seven to eight minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve two tablespoons bacon fat in a small bowl, and discard remaining fat.

Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Return Dutch oven to medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken, in a single layer, and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes per side. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate. Add remaining one tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking, and repeat with remaining chicken.

Melt three tablespoons butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add pearl onions and mushrooms and cook, occasionally stirring, until lightly browned, five to eight minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring frequently, until well-combined, about one minute.

Add reduced wine mixture, scraping bottom of pot with a spoon to loosen browned bits. Add ¼ teaspoon pepper, cooked chicken (and any accumulated juices) and cooked bacon. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a large bowl and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until sauce is thick and glossy and measures about 3 1/2 cups, about five minutes. Remove from heat, stir in remaining two tablespoons butter and reserved one tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to pot. Top with minced parsley and serve immediately.

Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:
Calories 530 Fat 32 g Sodium 300 mg
Carbohydrates 11 g Saturated fat 13 g Calcium 74 mg
Protein 45 g Cholesterol 152 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1/2 other carb, 6 lean meat, 3 fat.

Rice Pilaf
Serves 6.
Note: For additional flavor, add pine nuts, golden raisins or freshly chopped parsley, just before covering the pan.
1 cup rice
3 chicken-flavor instant bouillon cubes
2 cup water
4 tablepsoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 generous cup fine egg noodles


Place rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly, running cold water over rice—and stirring rice—for about one minute. Place strainer over a bowl to drain, and reserve.

Place bouillon cubes in two cups water and reserve.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add egg noodles and cook, constantly stirring, until noodles just begin to brown, about two to three minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add rinsed rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until rice grains begin to appear slightly bumpy, as if they are going to pop, about three to four minutes. Carefully add bouillon water and stir, breaking down any remaining bouillon cubes. Reduce heat to very low, cover and cook until all water is absorbed, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat, stir and serve.

Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 220 Fat 9 g Sodium 650 mg
Carbohydrates 31 g Saturated fat 5 g Calcium 21 mg
Protein 4 g Cholesterol 28 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 bread/starch, 2 fat.

















 



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