Sunday, April 20, 2008

Break out the Beret!

I am not sure what possessed me to attempt a classic and somewhat complicated French dish for our dinner party last night. Despite spending 26 years of my life with a very French last name, I have never really felt French. I have always felt more connected to the other very strong Italian side of my ancestry. There is no doubt that I have always identified myself more easily with my Italian heritage because of my dark skin, big nose and my tendency to use my hands so fervently when I talk that I look like I am landing a 747. Maybe I was feeling guilty for not embracing my French lineage while I still had the last name to prove it (circa two weeks ago I now have a very Italian last name), but whatever persuaded me to attempt this French dish took a strong hold of me and I was off.

It is no secret that once I get an idea in my head, I go at it full force and never look back. So there I was, about to cook Classic Coq Au Vin in my new Le Creuset pot for six people I have never cooked for before. Let's just say - it was an adventure. Coq Au Vin, like most braising recipes takes a very long time. This recipe didn't only take a long time during the braising process in the oven, the preparation before the braising lasted for what seemed like an eternity. I like to chop and I like to mince and I like to stir and sautee - but doing these things for almost two hours took a toll on me. I stood over the counter for so long before the dish was even ready to go in the oven that I felt like my knees were locked shut. Ok, so I am a bit dramatic ( I told you I was Italian ), but it was very exhausting. I also probably made this recipe harder on myself than it needed to be in the following ways:
  • I bought whole chickens so I needed to watch a You Tube tutorial video to figure out how to quarter them.
  • I decided to serve the dish with homemade mashed potatoes instead of egg noodles like the recipe suggested. And at about 10am that morning my mother informed me that homemade mashed potatoes are definitely a dish that can be ruined by improper preparation (so nerves were applied to this ordeal).
  • I stopped several times during the preparation to take pictures for my new blog!
  • And I was afraid to turn the heat on the burner too high because the owner's manual to my new French pot indicated this was a bad idea.
So with all the extra pressures applied it was anything but easy. But I am elated to report that the results were astounding. The accomplishment I felt when I tasted the dish was immense. It is always great to know that your hard work was worth the time. My Coq Au Vin (although it isn't the most aesthetically pleasing picture above) was marvelous! The chicken was so tender and aromatic. The sauce coupled beautifully with the mashed potatoes (which I didn't ruin). And the crowd was definitely pleased!

Classic Coq Au Vin
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2003

10 slices bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 chickens, about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, quartered, rinsed and patted dr
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
20 small pearl onions, peeled

1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large shallots)
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 pound button mushrooms, wiped clean and halved or quartered i
f large (should match size of onions)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3 cups full-bodied dry red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Cotes-du-Rhone

1 1/2 cups rich chicken stock
6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

In a large, heavy Dutch oven over high heat fry the bacon until crisp and all of the fat is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crisp bacon bits to paper towels to drain. Reserve.

Season the chicken pieces with the salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces in the hot bacon fat, working in batches, if necessary, and turning to ensure even cooking. Transfer the chicken pieces to a large plate or bowl and set aside.Remove some of the bacon fat, leaving about 4 tablespoons in the Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the chopped onion, pearl onions, shallots and garlic cloves to the Dutch oven and cook until soft, about 4 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until they've released most of their liquid and have begun to brown.

Add the flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly add the wine and stock, stirring constantly. Add the thyme, bay leaf, reserved bacon and chicken. Bring liquid to a boil. (Below is a picture of what the dish looks like before it goes in the oven)

Cover the pot, place in the oven and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the chicken is very tender. (Below is a picture before I took the chicken out to thicken the sauce and right when it came out of the oven. The chicken is so tender at this point that special care needs to be taken when moving the chicken around.)

Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish and cover loosely to keep warm. Return pot to medium-low heat. Skim any fat from the surface of the cooking liquid and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until the sauce has thickened slightly and coats the back of a spoon, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Return the chicken to the Dutch oven and cook for a few minutes to heat through, then serve.

Serve with egg noodles and braised leeks. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

*This dish may be prepared 1 or 2 days in advance and then reheated slowly just before serving.

Below is a picture of my table setting. I folded the napkins into Fleur di Lis shapes - another nod to my French theme and also a way to pay homage to my home town (New Orleans)!

It was a very successful night despite the long day of preparation that proceeded it. It was all worth while, we had a great time with some friends we hadn't had over for dinner before and I was able to use a ton of new wedding gifts in the process. We put the two new Le Creuset pots, glass salad bowl, Lenox Balloon Red wine glasses, silverware, flatware chest, place mats, napkins, potato masher and water pitcher to use all in one night. Viva la France!


Woody said...

i loved the cheese cake below but i really liked the creaminess of this meal. The mashed potatoes that went with it was awesome. very good meal and the presentation of the table was no elegant it made me feel under dressed, in my shorts and flip-flops, i felt like i should have had a tie on.

Anonymous said...

Nice job BizzyMan -- looks very impressive! I guess it was worth all of the hysterical sobbing and what not.

-Tim (a.k.a. Lance, or whatever it is your dad calls me)

mom said...

I was a bit worried about you on this dish. Taking on such a grandoise meal (one that you never tried before) was a gamble. I should have known that you would rise to the occasion. I'm expecting Coq Au Vin when I visit you in DC.