Sunday, January 1, 2017

Coq Au Vin

Chicken in Red Wine

Coq au Vin - it sounds a bit fancy schmancy, but everything sounds fancy in French. It is really just chicken braised low and slow in wine. A winey chicken stew. Classic old-school Coq au Vin recipes might include all parts of the chicken, a rooster actually, including the feet and the blood for thickening. It might call for marinating the fowl overnight in red wine, perhaps add a touch of cognac or brandy along the way. Feet and blood?! no thanks. Welcome to 2017 and a modified, simplified version of Coq au Vin... much simpler. 

Winter weather tends to focus my food cravings on warming comfort food. A light dusting of snow highlighted the yard this morning and the forecast calls for a near-term cooling trend. Brrrr, it's getting downright chilly in Western Washington. Bring on the comfort food! Coq au Vin was today's choice, easy to prepare after a leisurely breakfast and ready to enjoy before the 1:25 kickoff in today's football game. Reheated later tonight or tomorrow, the flavors will further mellow and this dish will taste even better. 

Why specify chicken thighs? It is so easy to overcook chicken breasts, resulting in a dry, leathery, barely edible toughness. Chicken thighs are a better choice for braising since they are more flavorful, more tender, and stay moist longer than chicken breasts. 

Nonetheless it is important to use a low heat setting to ensure a barely simmering liquid. The lowest setting on my electric cooktop adds too much heat, requiring two metal 'flame-tamers' (heat diffusers) to raise the pot above the element coils.    

Coq au Vin offers moist and succulent chicken thighs, the savory umami of bacon, the texture of flavorful meaty mushrooms, and a savory spicy wine sauce. Mmmmmmm, what's not to like?

Coq Au Vin

serves 2+

4 to 6 large chicken thighs (preferably not skinless, boneless)

Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, for dusting
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cups hearty red wine (Pinot Noir, Merlot etc.)
2 carrots, cut in large chunks 
1 large yellow onion, cut in large pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large bay leaf
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock or broth

1 cup thick, meaty bacon, cut crosswise into strips
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, halved or quartered
2 green onions, chopped
Finishing salt (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a deep cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper; dust each thigh completely with flour and shake off excess. Brown the chicken on each side until golden brown, about 10 minutes; remove from the pan and set aside.

Deglaze the pot with 1 cup of the wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Add the carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf; stir in the tomato paste, chicken stock and the remaining wine. Return the browned chicken to the liquid in the pot; cover and gently simmer over low heat for 1 hour, turning once or twice.

While the chicken simmers, use a second large skillet and cook the bacon until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, reserving the fat. Add the mushroom halves to the fat in the pan and cook until browned; season well with salt and pepper. Add a bit more olive oil (or butter, if you prefer) to the pan if needed. 

Lift the chicken out of the liquid and set aside. Strain the solids out of the braising liquid and discard those spent vegetables. Simmer the sauce until reduced and thickened to a sauce-like consistency.* Return the chicken to the pan to reheat. Taste and adjust sauce seasonings. 

Add the crispy bacon strips, cooked mushrooms and chopped green onions back into the pot with the chicken.

Arrange the chicken on a platter and spoon the sauce over the top, or serve in shallow bowls for individual servings. Sprinkle sparingly with a finishing salt (optional) Serve as a stew with crusty French bread, or over egg noodles or potatoes. 


*If the sauce is too thin after reducing for 15 to 20 minutes, rub equal quantities of flour and butter together with your fingers and add to the pot, one tablespoon at a time, then continue cooking. 
*If there isn't enough liquid before reducing, add more chicken stock to the pan and carry on.

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