Happy New Year!
A classic French chicken stew with vegetables cooked in a red wine sauce where the chicken first gets to soak up all the flavors from a full-bodied red wine and herb marinade overnight. The marinated chicken is then browned to perfection and cooked along with vegetables in a rich fatty wine sauce.
Off late I find myself eagerly looking forward to opportunities to cook from my French cookbooks. No, my love for French cuisine is not new. I have always loved and admired this cuisine because when it comes to food, the French people are the real maestros of this craft. They are the ones who invented ‘culinary art’ and taught the world how cooking can also be an art form. As for me, other than a few basic sauces, pastries, etc., I have never tried my hands on cooking the complicated French recipes until very recently. Surprisingly, Julia Child motivated me to research, study, cook and fall in love with French food all over again. Isn’t it amazing how a person can influence another person even 14 years after her death? Guess that is how one becomes immortal and continue to live through the generations, although this recipe is not the one from Julia Child’s cookbook.
So when this New Year’s Eve potluck was planned, I took this opportunity to try my hands on cooking something French. Here’s why :
1. A classic French main course is generally multi-layered recipe, hence it is a great learning experience/practice.
2. An excellent opportunity to brush through the techniques and more delicate details of the recipe.
3. Since I had made Boeuf Bourguignon a couple weeks ago, my pantry was sufficiently stocked with most of the common ingredients which are used widely in French cooking.
4. When you are cooking a stew dish which has both protein and vegetables, it is always easier to make a bigger batch for a bigger crowd than a small intimate dinner for two. More people, less wastage.
5. The main protein being chicken, the cooking time for this recipe is just a couple of hours, if you do not take the overnight marination into account.
6. With the mercury hitting freezing lows around here, adding a warm bowl of stew to the potluck menu will be a hearty welcome.
Since I was planning on trying my hands on this recipe for a while anyway, it did not take me long to decide what to make for the potluck party. Plus you cannot beat the fact that of having ingredients ready in the pantry. As this party was a costume party with a theme, I had to make sure that I cannot afford to slog in the kitchen all day before the party. I needed to wrap up cooking with a couple of hours and have time on hand to deck up for the party. Even though I called this a ‘Classic Coq Au Vin’ and have stuck to the recipe 99%, my only deviation was in adding peas and baby potatoes to the stew. Somehow after reading and studying the recipe a few times, I thought this stew can handle some more veggies to make it a more wholesome dish. Imagine this dish as a weekend dinner – how nice will that be, right? One filling, flavorful dish. All you need on the side is some slices of toasted bread/baguette and your dinner is sorted!
Okay so now coming to the deets of the party. The theme of the party was ‘Remembering 2018’, hence we had to dress up to commemorate a remarkable event of 2018. I decided to dress up like a legendary Indian actress Sridevi who passed away in February 2018 – trying to remember her through one of her iconic dance numbers “Hawa Hawai” from the film Mr. India. A couple of my friends tried to recreate their favorite costumes from Met Gala 2018. But the funniest part of the party was the men, who decided to dress like our President, Mr. Trump – who is always in the scandalous headlines even when you literally do not want to remember him. Thanks to our forever entertaining President, I think his entire tenure will remain memorable to us for the rest of our lives!
Well, it was a super fun evening with games, caricatures, dancing, photo session, and great food! Overall I think we actually gave a pretty rocking send-off to 2018 and blew party horns with full vigor at midnight to usher in 2019 wholeheartedly. What a fun way to switch over to the next year, right?
Classic Coq Au Vin
- 3 pounds chicken legs and thighs
- 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
- 3 cups hearty red wine, preferably from Burgundy
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 4 ounces lardons, pancetta or bacon, diced into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 8 ounces white or brown mushrooms, halved if large, and sliced (about 4 cups)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 ounces peeled pearl onions (about 12 to 15 onions)
- Pinch sugar
- 2 slices white bread, cut into triangles, crusts removed
- ¼ cup chopped parsley, more for serving
- Season chicken with 2 1/4 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. In a large bowl, combine chicken, wine, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or, even better, overnight.
- In a large Dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed pot with a tightfitting lid, cook lardons over medium-low heat until fat has rendered, and lardons are golden and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lardons to a paper-towel-lined plate, leaving rendered fat in pot.
- Remove chicken from wine, reserving the marinade. Pat chicken pieces with paper towels until very dry. Heat lardon fat over medium heat until it’s just about to smoke. Working in batches if necessary, add chicken in a single layer and cook until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes per side. (Add oil if the pot looks a little dry.) Transfer chicken to a plate as it browns.
- Add diced onion, carrot, half the mushrooms and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to pot. Cook until vegetables are lightly browned, about 8 minutes, stirring up any brown bits from the pot, and adjusting heat if necessary to prevent burning.
- Stir in garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, then stir in flour and cook for another minute. Remove from heat, push vegetables to one side of pot, pour brandy into empty side, and ignite with a match. (If you’re too nervous to ignite it, just cook brandy down for 1 minute.) Once the flame dies down, add reserved marinade, bring to a boil, and reduce halfway (to 1 1/2 cups), about 12 minutes. Skim off any large pockets of foam that form on the surface.
- Add chicken, any accumulated juices and half the cooked lardons to the pot. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour, turning halfway through. Uncover pot and simmer for 15 minutes to thicken. Taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary.
- Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons oil in a nonstick or other large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pearl onions, a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, shaking skillet often to move onions around. Uncover, push onions to one side of skillet, add remaining mushrooms, and raise heat to medium-high. Continue to cook until browned, stirring mushrooms frequently, and gently tossing onions occasionally, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove onions and mushrooms from skillet, and wipe it out.
- In same skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until bubbling. Add bread and toast on all sides until golden, about 2 minutes per side. (Adjust heat if needed to prevent burning.) Remove from skillet and sprinkle with salt.
- To serve, dip croutons in wine sauce, then coat in parsley. Add pearl onions, mushrooms and remaining half of the cooked lardons to the pot. Baste with wine sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve with croutons on top.
The classic recipe does not call for baby potatoes or peas. But I have added peas and baby potatoes to mine. Since this dish was a part of a New Year’s potluck spread and I had cooked this for a crowd, I wanted it to be more of a wholesome meal by itself. It did not alter anything in terms of taste, in my opinion, just added more volume to the stew. If you plan on adding these vegetables, then add them along with the diced carrots and mushrooms in step 4. Otherwise, feel free to completely omit them.