Friday, 29 October 2010

Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin can seem a little passé these days. It is a dish that reminds most of us of the 1970’s along with prawn cocktail, Spaghetti Bolognese and trifle. However, I think Coq au Vin makes a wonderfully warming dish. It is hearty and delicious to eat with family or a group of friends.

Traditionally the dish was made with older chicken birds, the ones known as old boilers. If you can’t source an older chicken then a good free range chicken will work just as well. I buy the chicken whole and then cut up the bird into four large portions. All good butchers will do this for you if you need a little help. You can then roast off the main carcass and use it to make a stock.

For complete authenticity and especially if using an older bird, marinade the chicken for 24 hrs in the red wine. Only use a wine you would be happy to drink. When cooked the sauce should be thick, dark and glossy. Originally it would have been thickened with chicken blood! But don't worry, I don't advocate using this particular ingredient. These days the sauce is just well reduced then thickened with “beurre manie”.

Serves four
One good free range chicken apx 3lb cut into four or eight portions
One fat clove of garlic thinly sliced
Good sprig each of thyme and parsley plus parsley to garnish
1 Celery stick
125 gm unsmoked bacon lardons
12 shallots (cut in half)
20 button mushrooms
Bottle of red wine
3 tbs Cognac
100ml good chicken stock

Marinade your chicken in the wine overnight in the fridge (or for at least 6 hours).
Using an oven proof casserole, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Let the butter foam but not burn and then add the shallots and fry for about three minutes until they start to colour. Add the bacon lardons and continue to cook over a medium heat until the bacon begins to brown. Then add the garlic and cook for three or four minutes more. Don’t let the garlic colour, merely melt. Remove the vegetables and bacon from the pan, leaving the fats behind, and keep on one side.
Dry your chicken pieces with kitchen paper, turn up the heat under the pan to get the fats really hot and then pieces of chicken, skin side down and fry them without moving them for about four minutes. This will allow the chicken pieces to take on a good colour.
After about four minutes when the chicken pieces are golden, turn them over and cook for about another three minutes, remove from the pan and repeat the process until all of your chicken has been sealed and browned.
Put all the ingredients back in the casserole and turn the heat down. Have a box of matches ready, tip in the cognac, lean back away from the pan and hold a lighted match quickly a couple of inches over the bubbling liquid. It will ignite! When the flames have died down you will be left with essence of cognac without the bitter alcohol.
Season the chicken with a little salt and black pepper and add the red wine (reserving two small glasses) fairly slowly so that a simmer is maintained. Tie the herbs in the celery stick to make a bouquet garni. Then add the herbs and chicken stock, cover the casserole and transfer to a slow oven 150˚C for 1 hour.
After one hour check the chicken – take a skewer or small sharp knife and poke the thigh pieces. If the meat is separating from the bone easily, it is ready.
Whilst the coq is cooking, prepare the beurre manie for thickening the sauce. This is merely two teaspoons of butter and two teaspoons of flour mixed together until amalgamated. Keep in the fridge until needed later.
Also at this stage you could prepare the mushrooms. Clean them with a damp cloth, and add them to a mixture of two teaspoons of butter and half a glass of the reserved wine brought to a simmer in a small pan. Season with some salt and black pepper, cover and cook gently for twenty minutes giving the pan a little shake every now and then, draw them off the heat and keep till later.
When you are happy that the chicken cooked, carefully lift it out of the casserole, cover and keep warm. Remove the bouquet garni. Add any liquid from the mushrooms and then boil hard until reduced by two thirds. Taste the sauce for seasoning and then whisk in the beurre manie in small pieces a little at a time until you have the sauce as thick as you like.
Add in the chicken and mushrooms to reheat and serve the Coq au Vin, surrounded by the mushrooms and ladle the sauce over. This dish is delicious served with new boiled potatoes or mash and some seasonal vegetables.

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