[73] Coq Au Vin

Cover of Cooking for Two

I can’t remember why I decided to make this recipe. The sane and reasonable reason would have been, “Because I didn’t want any leftovers before Thanksgiving” and that may have played a small role. However, probably not as large a role as you might expect. I think the biggest reason was wanting something that wasn’t out of How to Cook Everything. Basically, I wanted to cook out of a cookbook we haven’t used in awhile.

On top of that, a very sane Thanksgiving reason also encroached. Not only did I not want leftovers before the big food day, I knew I wanted more freezer space as I cooked beforehand and for leftovers afterward. So I did a lot of digging through my freezer to see what I could use.

What jumped out at me one day was the package of chicken thighs we had in there. So I went hunting for something that would use the chicken thighs. It was also nice that I had basically all the ingredients on hand, or would. I’m sure I also planned this so that I could have several mushroom-using dishes on the menu. I occasionally go a little wild at the Green City Market mushroom seller’s booth.

PLUS, PLUS! It uses brandy. I own brandy from back when I lived with our friend Jessie. She was going to make a beef stew for us that required brandy and setting it on fire. Like, intentionally. She’s awesome. I bought the brandy. I’m not sure why, but I did. However, none of us (Bill, Jessie, Amber (the other former roommate) or I) drink brandy. So now recipes that cook with it make me smile. It’s taking up space on my booze shelf!

I had to buy the celery seeds. I was a little dubious because I’ve never seen another recipe calling for it, but the bulk bins at Whole Foods have alleviated a lot of the “buying a spice for just one dish and having it forever after, never used” syndrome. I also had to buy the bacon. I regret nothing!h2. Ingredients

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 chicken leg quarters, ~1 1/4 lb total (We used 3 chicken thighs, 1.13 lbs total according to the package.)

1 small onion, minced

1 small garlic clove, minced

2 tsp all-purpose flour

1/2 bottle dry red wine (This is 375 mL or roughly 12.5 ounces.)

2 tsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried

1 tsp minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp minced dried

1/4 tsp celery seeds

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp unsalted butter

8 oz white button or crimini mushrooms

2 tbsp brandy or Grand Marnier (In case it wasn’t clear, we used brandy.)

h2. Instructions

Heat a 3 qt dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry about 5 minutes, until quite crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate. Do not drain the fat from the pan.

Add the chicken and brown it, turning once, for 3 minutes a side. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon, then add the onion and garlic to the drippings and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. After the minute is up, stir in the flour, incorporating it thoroughly into the fat in the pan. Continue cooking until the flour begins to brown in the pan (~2 min), stirring constantly to avoid any flour lumps.

Raise the heat to medium-high, and pour in the wine. Stir it in well, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil 1 minute, until the wine has reduced and thickened somewhat. Return the bacon, chicken and any accumulated drippings on the plate to the pot, then stir in the herbs. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the chicken is simmering, heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the mushrooms and cook for about 4 minutes, until they have given off their liquid. Stir ’em occasionally to encourage them to give their best!

Once the mushrooms are cooked, CAREFULLY add the alcohol to the skillet. It can ignite, so be prepared to cover the skillet immediately and remove it from the heat for a bit. If there’s no fire or once you put the fire out, cook this for about 3 minutes, scraping any browned bits up, until the mushrooms are glazed by the booze. Cover and set aside until the chicken is done cooking.

At the end of the 30 minute simmer, stir the mushrooms and any pan juices into the chicken pot. Cover and cook another 10 minutes (still at a simmer). Uncover and cook for another 5 minutes to thicken the sauce just a bit.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

Well, now we’re looking at a less simple recipe, aren’t we? I bet we both appreciate this because it means I have more to say when I discuss cooking it.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m really picky when I’m browning meat or cooking bacon. Unlike most cooks (I think; I guess I don’t know this), I like to use tongs to do this. I like to be able to handle every piece of meat in the pan and pull them each out as they finish, instead of pulling everything out when most pieces are done appropriately. For bacon, this means I get every piece truly crisp, but it takes a reasonably larger amount of time. I think it’s worth it, especially in recipes where the bacon then goes back into a stew, since the crispiness seems to help each piece retain it’s shape better in the stew.

The addition of the flour is to make a roux, effectively. That’s a big part of the watching for lumps and stirring constantly. A roux is a good way to thicken a sauce or stew. Browning the flour is to add a specific flavor (usually described as “nutty”) to the dish. “Wikipedia, as always, has more details.”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roux#Types There’s just one small problem with doing so here: You’re looking for browned flour but 1) the recipe never says how brown and 2) you’re adding the flour to a fat that is often sort of brown itself (bacon) Use your best judgment and consider whether you would personally prioritize a stronger “nutty” flavor or a thicker stew.

I did not ignite the brandy in this recipe. But I did ignite some alcohol that I was cooking later in the week, and Bill had to rescue me, because I’d never done that before. Be prepared, folks!

h3. Consumption

This makes a lot of food for two people. Indeed, this made enough food for three people. I know, because we each had a thigh and a bunch of sauce, and there was still enough for me to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

It’s very good, though. I was fascinated to see where the chicken meat was dyed redish-purple by the wine. Basically, this was any area of meat that wasn’t covered by skin. It was pretty cool to see.

We served this over egg noodles, and this was the day I learned Bill LOVES egg noodles. Fun tidbit, no? But it’s also that they just made a nice way to catch all that sauce you don’t want to go to waste.

The mushrooms were AWESOME. Bill and I both stole one before it went into the stew and thought they were grand. In the stew, they were quite spectacular.

One thing though is a total weirdness I have about bacon. Namely, I actually just want bacon to be crisp. Always. As you can imagine, this is impossible to achieve when the bacon has been simmering in a stew for any length of time. It still tastes good. In fact, especially in this stew, it tastes better than straight bacon. Yet the texture throws me off every time. I think this is part of why I’m so picky about crisping it in the beginning. I really noticed a difference in this stew with how toothsome the bacon was here, as opposed to recipes where I have less time to devote to proper crisping. So, for your own good, crisp with care!

Also, just plain eat this. It’s really great.

h3. Other

In the “my mother is awesome” category, I should note that I was on the phone with her while I started to make this. During that conversation, I discovered that I’d lost the celery seeds and was trying to figure out how much impact that would have on the recipe. Being way better at this cooking thing than I, she said, “Well, I don’t think it’ll impact things too much. I think they’re just there to add a touch of bitterness. You’ll be fine.” Amazingly, the loss turned out to be temporary, so the recipe was able to proceed as directed. However, I do think it’s pretty cool that she just knew off the top of her head what the celery seeds were for (or at least had a decent guess). Especially since I have never seen them in her kitchen in my entire life.