Coq au Vin


You wouldn’t visit Egypt for the first time without visiting the Pyramids. Likewise, you wouldn’t learn French cuisine without making coq au vin at least once.

Coq au vin translates to “rooster with wine” in English (or cock with wine, but in this day and age that phrase is easily misconstrued). It’s basically a chicken stew made with a ton of wine. There are many ways to make coq au vin. For my inaugural attempt(s), I decided to go with Julia Child’s version, which is designed for the American supermarket. It certainly requires more work than some of the other versions, but all of its ingredients are readily acquirable in a supermarket.

This is going to be a long blog for a long recipe. I will be showing you how to make everything in the recipe from scratch, which takes anywhere from 3.5-5 hours depending on your hardware and multitasking skills. I strongly encourage you to read through the recipe before attempting the dish in the event that there is some hardware or ingredient requirement you do not meet. Of course, if you do not feel like spending much time/effort, feel free to take any store-bought shortcuts you deem necessary.

Last but not least, a ton of thanks to www.teamliquid.net member endy for answering my newbie questions and lending his vast culinary knowledge.

Ingredients

If you consider yourself a mature individual, you’ll probably want to skip the captions ahead. Coq talk incoming (aren’t you glad I tipped you off?).

Prep Time: 3.5-5 hours
Note: I know this looks like a lot of ingredients, but there’s a lot of repeats. And yes, you need all parts.

I: Brown Chicken Stock

Chicken giblets & bones
1 medium carrot
1 yellow onion
3 cups water
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 bay leaf
few sprigs of parsley
cooking oil

II: Brown-braised Mini-Onions [Oignons Glacés à Brun]

~ 2 dozen mini (or pearl) onions*
1.5 tbsp butter
1.5 tbsp oil
1/3 cups brown chicken stock**
2 sprigs parsley
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 bay leaf
salt
pepper

III: Sauteed Mushrooms [Champignons Sautés au Beurre]

1/2 pounds (~225g) mushrooms (button or brown is fine)
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
2-3 tbsp minced shallots OR chopped scallions
salt
pepper

IV: Coq au Vin

A 4-5 pound chicken, cut into pieces***
3-4 oz salt pork OR bacon****
1/2 cups cognac
3 cups wine*****
2 cubs brown chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp thyme
3 tbsp parsley leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt
pepper
2-3 tbsp butter
2-3 tbsp flour

*Do not use large onions. You should be able to find some small or pearl onions that are roughly 1 inch in diameter or smaller. They do cost about 10x the price of regular yellow onions though.
**The original recipe says 1/2 cups of stock, but if you “simmer slowly” as the instructions direct you’ll never be able to simmer away all the liquid by the end of 50 minutes. 1/3 cups should be more than enough especially since the pearl onions I (and probably you) use are smaller and should cook faster than those in the recipe.
***Try to procure a good chicken, like a free-ranged type. Since you will be shelling out a lot of money for all the other ingredients, it doesn’t make sense for the star of the show to be of low quality.
****What you really need is a lump of high-fat salt pork that hasn’t been smoked. If you cannot find these, use bacon. Full instructions will be included below.
*****You want a full-bodied red wine. White wines also work, but my personal experience is with red. Merlots are a good choice for a cheap wine that is still full-bodied. If you have money to spare, a Burgundy, a wine from the Vallee du Rhone region made from Pinot Noir grapes, or a Chianti should also work.

Cooking I: Brown Chicken Stock

The cooking process for coq au vin begins and ends with the chicken. If you purchased a whole chicken, it should come with some giblets and a neck. Set these aside and de-bone your chicken. You should end up with two breasts, two thighs, two wings, two drumsticks, the spine, a few extra pieces of skin and fat, and the ribcage. Cut the spine in half to produce two additional pieces of dark meat chicken.

I’m not exactly an expert deboner. But your grandmother is, when she’s naked.

Bag the breasts and stick them in the refrigerator. They will not be used for this dish. Set aside the giblets, skin, and bones, and refrigerate the other pieces for now. These random pieces of chicken will be the base for the brown chicken stock.

Taking chicken stock to brown town. Coqs are involved.

Chop one onion and one carrot. Pour a tablespoon of two of oil into a pot and brown the chicken, onion, and carrot. After browning, add three cups of water, bay leaf, thyme, and a few sprigs of parsley. Salt and pepper isn’t necessary at this point. Bring the water to a boil then turn the heat down. Simmer the stock for about 90 minutes. Strain the solids out and keep the stock for later.

I dub it the coq stock

Cooking II: Brown-braised Mini-Onions

Wash and peel your mini-onions (you can do this while your stock is simmering). Place your butter and oil in a non-stick pan over medium to medium-high heat. The butter will melt, then begin to form foam bubbles on the surface of the oil. Wait until the foam has subsided; this indicates that the oil is ready to receive your food. Dump your onions into the hot oil and brown them on all sides to the best of your ability, rolling them around to brown all surfaces.

Pearl onions, because you can’t have coq au vin without the family jewels.

Once the onions are suitably browned, pour 1/3 cup of your brown chicken stock. Add salt and pepper to taste, thyme, bay leaf, and sprigs of parsley (you may notice a pattern in the herbs involved). Turn the heat down to low and cover the onions. Slowly simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated. If you are using a dark (teflon) pan, it may be difficult to discern if there is still any liquid left or if there is only oil. You can always tip the pan a bit to find out, or taste an onion. It should hold its shape, but be soft enough to melt in your mouth.

Cooking III: Sauteed Mushrooms

This step can be done ahead of time, or later while your chicken is simmering in part IV. Wash and thinly slice your mushrooms. Meanwhile, melt your butter and oil in a pan (medium on gas stove, high on electric). Again, the way to tell that the butter is ready is when the foam rises then subsides in the pan.

Bubble pop, bubble pop.

Toss the mushrooms for about five minutes. The mushrooms will first absorb all of the oil, then gradually release it to coat all the mushrooms with a nice slick sheen. There should never be any water or juice in the bottom of the pan while you are sauteeing. If you do see water collecting, turn your heat up.

Chop some shallots or scallions while you are tossing the mushrooms. Add them to your sauteed mushrooms and toss for another two minutes. Salt and pepper to season. Remove from heat and set aside for now.

Up until now neither coq nor vin have made their appearances yet. But hold your fucking horses, it’s coming. By which I mean the coq.

Cooking IV: Coq au Vin

We are now ready to assemble the dish! Bring about 5-6 cups of water to a boil in a pot. Cut your bacon into pieces and boil them for 10 minutes to remove the smoky taste. If you are using salt pork, you can skip this step. Once your bacon is boiled, drain the water.

To do this step completely from scratch, first smoke your pork to make bacon, then boil the bacon to remove the smoky flavor.

Fry the bacon in a pan with two tablespoons of butter until the fat has been rendered from the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan.

Take your dark meat chicken pieces out of the refrigerator. Use 6-8 pieces of paper towels to pat them dry. This step is very important! It may seem wasteful, but it is essential to dry the surface of the chicken so that you can brown them without steaming them.

Heat the bacon-infused butter oil until it is smoking, then brown your chicken on all sides. Salt and pepper them at this time. Make sure to cook your chicken on a single layer, and do not crowd your pan. If you have a small pan like I do, brown your chicken in batches.

Cutting it up and frying it in butter, the French sure have a way with coqs.

Once your chicken is browned, collect them in a pot. Add the bacon back to the chicken and cover the pot. Cook for 10 minutes, turning the pieces once.

Pour it on your coq and set it on fire.

Now, take the lid off the pot. Pour 1/4 cup of cognac all over the chicken and light that shit on fire, using either a match or a lighter.

It’s like that scene in the park in that movie Baby’s Day Out. You know what I’m talking about?

Carefully shake the pot from side to side while it is on fire, making sure not to catch on fire yourself. Now, add to the chicken two cups of brown chicken stock, three cups of wine, one mashed garlic clove, a tablespoon of tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoons of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of salt, and some pepper. Cover the lid, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

Coq and vin, finally united.

At the end of 30 minutes remove the chicken from the pot. Yes, the pieces will be a dark purple. And that’s fine. There should also be a brownish film over the soup in the pot. Use a ladle to skim all of this off- this is most of the fat that have been used so far in the dish. Then, turn the heat as high as it can go. Boil the liquid down until you have about 2 cups left skimming off any scum that rises to the surface, then turn the heat down until the sauce is at a bare simmer.

That coq residue right there ain’t good for eatin’

Mash together 2-3 tablespoons of room temperature butter with equal parts flour. Dump this mixture into your reduced sauce, and whisk (use a plastic spatula if you are using a non-stick pot like I am!) the butter into the sauce to incorporate. Simmer for a few minutes more. Return the chicken to the pot, and add the mushrooms and onions. Fold into the sauce. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top and serve hot with potatoes, pasta, or rice.

You know a dish isn’t half-coqed when you’ve been cooking it for the past 5 hours.

The Result

Les filles, elles adorent mon coq.

A lot can go wrong when someone as immature as I am has to talk about tasting a dish called coq au vin. I’ll say that it is pretty good. Cooking all the ingredients separately means that they all have a unique identity in the dish. The chicken is nice, tender, and chickeny. The onions, sweet from caramelization, melt in your mouth. The mushrooms are nice and mushroomy, and when you chew them the rich flavor of butter come bursting forth. The rich wine sauce ties everything together nicely.

Conclusion

Man, this writeup was really long. It’s probably really long for you to read too, so I’ll keep this short. French cuisine is fucking fun to cook, I enjoyed every minute of the five hours or so it took to make the dish. Sure, if you’re not so into cooking you can buy stock from the store and significantly cut down on the cooking time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. In the near future I have some baked goods projects planned, so stay tuned!

Advertisements

Chicken, Green Pepper, and Mushroom Stir Fry


One of my greatest self-professed weaknesses as a cook is that I have a hard time tasting any big difference between the allegedly “flavorless” fryer chickens in American grocery stores and their vastly more expensive, free-ranged counterparts. I mean, god damned everybody runs around talking about how flavorless your overfed, hormone pumped fryers are compared to the free rangers, but I can’t taste it. To me, even regular chicken breasts, which are the most flavorless parts of any chicken, can be flavorful enough if you season it with enough salt and pepper, marinate it in wine for a while, and avoid overcooking it.

This time around we are making a simple home style stir fry using the “flavorless” chicken breasts. This is a fast dish that takes mere minutes to assemble and is great for a summer lunch. The three main ingredients are chicken breasts, green bell peppers, and mushrooms. It is a light yet flavorful combination that draws influences from both traditional Chinese cuisine and Western style Chinese cuisine.

Ingredients

More ingredients than you can shake a stick at? I don’t think so. You can shake a stick at all of them if you wanted to.

Prep/Cook time: 15 minutes, plus ~2 hours hydration/marination time
Serves 2-3

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 green bell peppers
7-8 button, brown, or shiitake mushrooms*
Chinese cooking wine**
salt
pepper***
1 garlic clove (optional)
cooking oil
1 tbsp corn starch or 1 1/2 tbsp flour

*In the picture I had some hydrated shiitakes and a few leftover button mushrooms. You can use all of one type, a mixture, or however you like. Of course, shiitakes and mushrooms aren’t exactly cheap. If you’re on a shoestring budget you can omit mushrooms altogether.
**The brown kind. If you buy Chinese cooking wine from an Asian goods store it should be far cheaper than the cheapest grape wine you can find. Otherwise, substitute the cheapest white wine you can find.
***White or black pepper can work. White pepper is quite expensive in Western supermarkets for whatever reason, you can probably find it cheaper in the same Asian goods store you buy the Chinese cooking wine.

Cooking

This time we’ll start with the cooking first and move on to the prep later! Just kidding. We always prep first.

At least two hours before you make the dish, cut your chicken breasts into about 3/4 inch (2 cm) pieces. Season them with about half a teaspoon of salt and douse with 5-6 tablespoons of wine. Set the breasts in the refrigerator until cooking time. If you are using dried shiitakes, use this time to submerge them in some water as well (cold water if soaking overnight, warm if on the same day). Both marination and soaking can be done up to a day ahead of time.

These days chicken farmers are obsessed with large breasts.

Just before you are ready to cook, chop your mushrooms and green peppers into bite-sized pieces, also roughly 3/4 inch (2 cm). Mash your clove of garlic. If you plan to serve this dish with rice, you should start on it roughly 10 minutes after the rice has started cooking to ensure that both items finish at the same time.

NOTE: If you are using rehydrated shiitakes, squeeze the excess juice out of them after removing from the soaking liquid. This is a very mild dish and the strong flavor of shiitake can easily overpower everything else.

If you know karate, feel free to chop the vegetables by hand.

Now we are ready to cook. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil into a pan and turn heat to high (if on an electric range) or medium/medium high (if on a gas stove). Dump your chicken minus the marinating fluid into the pan. Season with pepper and cook until just before done, about two minutes. Stir the chicken often to keep it going and cook all sides evenly. Do not worry about browning; it is not required for this dish.

The French will tell you this is poulet and the Chinese will tell you it’s ji, but they’re all lying. It’s actually just chicken.

Dump all of your vegetables into the same pan. Season with salt and cook until almost done, which should take about three minutes. The non-shiitake mushrooms should soften but the green peppers should stay firm and crisp. While you are stir frying, prepare about 6 tablespoons of cold water mixed with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (or 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour).

What if it’s possible to become fungitarian and not eat meat or vegetables?

When the vegetables are almost done, add both the chicken and flour/water mixture into the pan. Taste for seasoning. Cook for about a minute or two until the the sauce thickens and coats all the pieces of meat and vegetables.

To Westernize the dish further, add six cups of heavy cream and beat in four sticks of butter.

Serve hot with steamed short-grained rice. Although the dish is mild, it pairs well with other, strong-flavored dishes such as chilled kimchi for contrast.

The Result

Kimchi is like Wheaties for Starcraft.

4.5 / 5 Pretty good for a quick, fast meal. The crisp green bell peppers provide a contrast in texture from the juicy mushrooms and chicken. The chicken breasts are tender and juicy, not tough or overcooked. As you can see, I have a small side bowl with some kimchi topped with a bit of chopped scallions to balance out the flavors for the meal.

Conclusion

Unlike Western cooking philosophy, which considers a wide variety of flavors in terms of gauging a dish, Chinese cuisine prioritizes two main factors when determining how tasty a dish is: aroma and umame (or savoriness). For this reason, you will often find many dishes in true Chinese cuisine which are rather one-dimensional in flavor, but presents the flavor in an extremely assertive way. This is a dish that follows such a philosophy: both chicken and mushrooms are heavily umame-flavored and serve to enhance each others’ flavor in this dish. The overall taste is simple and direct. That is why it is good to have a small side of kimchi for palate cleansing if this is the only dish you plan to serve with rice.

Cabillaud à la Provençale


Welcome ladies and gentlemen! Were you surprised by the unintelligible gibberish in the title? It’s written in a language called French, and it says something like “codfish cooked in the Provence style”. In Mark Twain’s book “Huckleberry Finn”, the character Jim had the sense to ask why these Frenchies can’t speak Americanese like the rest of us sensible folk, and well, I don’t know. Anyhow, these French people are allegedly world renowned for their cuisine, topping even McDonald’s and Taco Bell in the techniques and flavors of their food.

I have once again been called to do some mercenary cooking for my room mate, who managed to bargain for a rather nice looking piece of cod in exchange for some mere pieces of green-colored paper. This Provence way of cooking codfish is what I decided upon, after reading through a couple dozen recipes involving frying, searing, poaching, and baking this fish. The recipe comes directly from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. It is unadulterated, since I am still new to the French way of cooking. If you plan to follow this recipe, please read through the entire recipe (or at least the recipe as it appears on page 219 of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”) so that you are not caught off-guard by any equipment required.

Ingredients

The Lona Misa

Yes, all these things just to pamper that small piece of fish on the left. Its 15 minutes of fame before disappearing forever into someone's gut.

Prep and cook time: ~1 hour
Serves Two

1 lbs cod fish fillet, cut into 3-4 pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion
1 lb tomatoes, peeled and seeded*
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 cups white wine
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt
pepper
1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 tbsp softened butter**

*instructions will be provided on how to go about this below.
**must be at least room temperature! Plan ahead for this if you keep your butter in the refrigerator.

Author’s Note: normally I will say something like “feel free to leave out whatever you do not have or are not willing to shell out money for”, but if you are really interested in learning French cuisine, you should try to obtain as many of these ingredients as possible to really understand the full gamut of what each ingredient is trying to accomplish in the dish. Also, the cooking process is rather long and complex compared to some of the other dishes I have written about. Please follow the instructions as closely as possible because each step has a very specific reason. Omitting any step can result in a significantly different result.

Cooking

We will start by bringing a pot of water to boil. While the water is heating up, start on your prep work by mashing your clove of garlic, dividing and salt and peppering your cod, washing your tomatoes, and chopping your onions. Salt the cod more lightly than you would pork or beef. It is very easy to over-salt your fish.

Fresh herbs?!? This guy really sold out from his roots as a dirt-cheap cook. You bet your ass I did.

Once the water is boiling, dump (or dip individually with a ladle) your tomatoes into the water and submerge for 10 seconds. Remove them from heat immediately afterwards. This will allow you to easily peel your tomatoes.

Look how red those tomatoes are. You could wave this jpeg in front of a bull and he would charge.

Peel the tomatoes and remove that brown dot where the stem of the vine connects to the tomato. Cut each tomato in half across the width (the latitude). Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and soft juicy parts of the tomato. Either use these in another dish or discard them. Meanwhile, dice and collect the rest of the tomato. These will be used as the bulk of the sauce for this fish dish.

They're so juicy and plump and smooth. Then you GOUGE OUT THEIR INSIDES AND CHOP THEM ALL INTO TINY BITS.

It’s time to move on to the fish! Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a pan over medium-high heat until the olive oil begins to smoke. Saute your fish pieces for 1-2 minutes per side to lightly brown each side. Remember, the fish should sizzle when you drop it into the oil. If you do not audibly hear the sizzle, take the fish out and wait for the oil to heat up further.

It's poissonous.

Remove fish from the heat and set aside for now.  In the same pan, gently cook your onions for about 5 minutes to soften but not brown. You will need to turn the heat down for the onions. Preheat your oven to 325F (160C) After five minutes add the tomatoes, garlic clove, oregano, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for five more minutes.

If it wasn't for human fixation on meat this could easily be a tomato dish with cod playing a supporting role.

Prepare a baking pan. Place your fish on the bottom and pour your tomato sauce on top. Cover the pan (use aluminum foil if you lack a lid). Bake at the bottom third rack for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Add 1/2 cup of white wine and return the pan to the oven for 10 more minutes. In retrospect, my cook’s instinct tells me that this step is critical. The addition of wine half-way through the cooking process lowers the heat of the dish and prevents the fish from overcooking.

I wonder if some 10 year old will ever stumble onto this blog and go "What? They call this fish cod? Those fuckers totally stole that name from Call of Duty."

As your fish is baking, finely chop a tablespoon or two of parsley and mix together your flour and butter into a paste.

According to CSI if you zoom in closely enough onto the reflection in the spoon you could see my face.

After 20 cumulative minutes in the oven take the fish out. Separate the sauce from the fish fillets. Keep the fillets warm somewhere. Dump your sauce back into the pan and boil on high heat until you have less than a cup of it left. Don’t worry about the chunky tomatoes, the heat will reduce them into near oblivion by the time your sauce is done. At this point, add a tablespoon of tomato paste and your butter/flour paste and cook for another minute.

What if the reason why god isn't real is because there was a typo a long time ago, and we were supposed to be praying to cod all along?

You are almost done! Take the sauce off heat and dump in your chopped parsley. Mix. Prepare a number of plates. Arrange your cod piece(s) onto the plate and pour sauce onto the cod. Serve warm.

The Result

All that work for such a small portion. Oliver Twist would look at this and ask you for more.

 ??? / 5  Another mercenary effort so I am not entirely sure exactly how good it tastes. The sauce is pretty good at any rate. It is a bit tart, since I still can’t be arsed to grow my own tomatoes and supermarket tomatoes in the United States are typically rather poor in flavor compared to homegrown. If you have access to homegrown, ripe tomatoes, I highly recommend you try this dish with it. You will see a huge difference.

Conclusion

An interesting anecdote is that while I was growing up, raised in a traditional Chinese family, we always looked down on “Western” cuisine as rough and simplistic. My only contact with Western “cuisine” at the time being cafeteria food from school, I was inclined to agree. Steamed peas? Green beans boiled until they were turning yellow? Raw vegetable salads? These foods seemed so basic and flavorless compared to the stir fries of Chinese cooking which involved much washing, slicing, cooking, and saucing. And so I relayed these observations to my parents, who used these findings to reinforce their prejudices against western cuisine. To this day, many first-generation Chinese immigrants hold onto these same prejudices even after having lived in the United States for decades.

But you know, and I know, that these people, as proud as they are of their own cuisine, are missing an entire world of food. To me, right now, French cooking is still a bit of a novelty. It is exotic, complex, and a lot of fun. I, for one, do not want to miss out on what my fellow (ex-) countrymen are too disdained to try.

The moral of the story is to not be be afraid to try out new foods, even if you do not like it the first time you try it. At the very least you’ll leave the meal with an interesting story about that time you tried wild boar’s sphincter poached in the tears of seven year old children, or whatever that dish may be!