Celebrate autumn with a French bistro classic

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
  • Monday, October 11, 2010 10:04pm
  • Life

Once autumn hits its stride, I’m into plump and juicy heads of roasted garlic, creamy mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, and apple cobbler.

Some recipes speak to my growing enthusiasm for heartier fare and greater chunks of time to produce it. I thought that maybe, just maybe, you’d like to try out one of my favorite chicken dishes that I always run to at the thought that autumn is coming after all.

My version for that wonderful French bistro classic, coq au vin, which is chicken in red wine with onions and mushrooms, is inspired by Julia Child’s recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

It’s a great party dish, and completely worth extra effort. Most of the preparation can be done a day ahead, so that at the point of serving, all you have to do is reheat.

I like to serve this elegant dish with mashed potatoes. Roasted green beans would be a lovely addition.

Coq au vin

4slices thick-cut bacon, sliced into ¼-inch wide strips

2tablespoons butter

2½-3½ pounds chicken thighs (with bone and skin)

½teaspoon salt

1/8teaspoon pepper

¼cup brandy or cognac

3cups young, full-bodied red wine (see note below)

1cup chicken broth (canned or homemade)

1cup beef broth (canned)

1tablespoon tomato paste

2cloves garlic, peeled, mashed, and minced

¾teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/4teaspoon dried)

1bay leaf

24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)

½pound mushrooms (washed and halved)

3tablespoons flour

2tablespoons softened butter

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or pot, saute the bacon slowly in the hot butter over medium heat until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain off all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon grease and butter. Bring the pot back up to medium high and brown the chicken pieces well, skin side down, then turn and continue to brown on their second side.

Pour in the brandy. Averting your face, ignite the brandy with a lighted match. Shake the pan back and forth several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour in the wine, chicken broth and beef broth. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 20 minutes. Add the brown-braised onions and the sliced mushrooms and continue gently simmering, covered, until the chicken is “falling-off-the-bone” tender, about another 90 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon.

Let the sauce cool slightly and skim off as much of the fat as you can. (See note below for removing more of the fat). Remove the bay leaf.

In a saucer, blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste with a small wire whisk or a fork. Scrape the paste into the hot liquid and blend with a wire whisk. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two until the sauce has thickened enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Place the chicken and reserved bacon pieces back into the sauce and reheat before serving. (Or refrigerate it up to 24 hours and gently reheat to serve.)

Mashed potatoes make a wonderful side dish to the chicken.

Note on the wine used for cooking: Because you’re using so much wine in this dish, don’t feel you need to use the same wine you’re going to pour when you serve it. That would be extravagant. So I’m giving you permission to use a decent “Two-Buck Chuck” red for cooking. Just make sure it’s one you would enjoy sipping.

Note for defatting the sauce: To remove the maximum amount of fat from the sauce, separate the sauce from the chicken and vegetables. Refrigerate both containers (up to 24 hours ahead) until the fat has risen to the surface of the sauce and hardened. At this point, it’s very easy to simply lift the hardened fat from the surface of the sauce. Reunite the chicken, vegetables and sauce and when ready to serve, cover the pot and reheat gently over medium heat.

Brown-braised onions: Blanch 24 1-inch pearl onions (also called “boiling onions”) in a large pot of boiling water for 2 minutes, then plunge into cold water. Remove the onions from the water and drain well. Trim away the root and stem ends and slip off the skins. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to roll the onions about and give them a chance to brown on all sides. Don’t worry about even browning.

Add 1/2 cup of broth/wine (1/2 beef stock and 1/2 red wine or water), cover, and simmer on medium-low for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the onions are very tender but still retaining their shape and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Serves 4 to 6.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez: janrd@proaxis.com, www.janrd.com.

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