So, remember that time the weather people told us that Snowmaggedon was upon us, and that the whole world was shutting down for an unspecified period of time? Yeah, turns out that was just Take 1; today was Snowpocalypse take 2.
In light of another day shut up in my apartment, resisting the urge to start day drinking with my roomies at 10 AM, I decided that a cooking project was in order. I grew up in a house full of cooking projects. As the granddaughter of a woman who prided herself on whipping up complex masterpieces like pheasant-under-glass and Peking duck just as often as chopped liver and roast chicken, I enjoy the challenge successfully crafting complex dishes. And while I will always enjoy the exciting, luxury cooking projects of my childhood (veal chops and chanterelle risotto anyone?), my post-collegiate budget makes those behemoths of cuisine a bit harder to achieve. Thankfully, some of my most flavorsome, comforting dishes are easy on the budget without sacrificing flavor or complexity.
What genius could come up with such things you ask? Obviously, the answer is Julia Child.
So, when deciding on my Snowmaggedon plans, I knew that I wanted to do a Julia recipe. But which one to choose?
The answer came down to 2 things: the balance of my bank account, and what was left on the shelves of the grocery store after the angry hordes got there.
Naturally the on-sale beef stew meat was completely ransacked, as were roasting potatoes. Of course, the angry mobs hadn’t been interested in whole, skin-on chicken legs or cheap red mashers, which led me to a natural conclusion: coq au vin.
For those who don’t know, coq au vin is a sumptuous, savory stew of lardons, chicken, and red wine. Topped with braised pearl onions and sautéed mushrooms, it’s the kind of stick-t0-your-ribs yet still elegant fare that Julia Child popularized for the American home cook.
Of course, on a limited budget, there are edits I had to make. Generic, store-brand bacon instead of slab or salt pork. Mashed potatoes instead of parsley ones. In the end though, I think I came up with a coq au vin Julia would be proud of. (My roomies were into it, at least.) Plus, I guarantee that any reader of this blog could make it during their own Snowpocalypse. Ready to get started?
First things first, gather your ingredients (of course, when I took this photo, I forgot to grab the key ingredient — chicken — from the fridge. Oops. Pretend there’s 2 1/2 lbs. of chicken there, okay?).
Next, cut down your bacon into 1/4-inch lardons (don’t be scared — ‘lardon’ is just a fancy word for a baby piece of bacon).
Once your bacon is properly sliced and diced, toss it into a medium pot with boiling water, and simmer it for about 10 minutes.
Once your bacon is parcooked, drain it, rinse it with cold water, and dry it. Once it’s dry, you’re going to get it living its best bacon life by sautéing it in a hot pan with butter (Is there something better than bacon cooked in butter? If there is, I haven’t found it yet). Just make sure that you only cook your lardons until they’re a light golden-brown — they’ll get some more love later.
Now, while your bacon is doing its thing, take your chicken out of the refrigerator and dry it thoroughly. Hit it with a little and pepper on both sides, and — once you’ve removed your bacon from the pan — toss it into the hot pot to brown on both sides.
Once your chicken has a nice tan, throw the bacon back into the pan, cover it, and cook the meat over medium heat for 10 minutes, flipping it half-way through.
Now’s the fun part. Uncover your chicken, and toss in whatever brandy, whisky, or bourbon you have on hand. Julia says that you’re supposed to use cognac, but, well, I don’t exactly have the funds for that. So bourbon from the liquor stash it is! Don’t worry, it’ll still look very cool when you set it on fire.
After you’ve had your en flambé moment (make sure someone is on hand to film it for Snapchat posterity!), go ahead and pour in your wine and your chicken stock, plus some herbs, garlic and tomato paste. Bring all that goodness up to a simmer, cover it, and let it do its thing for about 25 minutes.
If you thought this was your time to relax, think again! While the chicken is braising, you get to cook your mushrooms and onions (sorry, not sorry). Let’s talk about the onions first. If you are a masochist, you can buy your pearl onions with the skins still on and painstakingly peel each and every one of them for about an hour. If you are sane, you can instead buy a bag in the frozen foods section, or patronize a store the rhymes with “Shmole Shmoods” and get them pre-peeled like I did. Yes, it’s really, really worth it.
Once you have a handful of cute, peeled onions, you’ll toss them in some hot olive oil and butter, and then let them simmer with some herbs and chicken stock until your chicken is done. Easy peasy.
Now that your onions are doing their thing, you can go to town on your mushrooms. I used crimini, because they were literally the only thing left in the store pre-Snowpocalypse, but button mushrooms would also do. Whichever kind you choose, go ahead and chop them into quarters, and sauté them with butter and olive oil on high heat for 4 or 5 minutes. Once they’re golden brown and delicious, season them with salt and pepper, and cook them over moderate heat with your diced shallots for a few minutes more. Then valiantly resist to urge to eat them all before the rest of your food is done.
Now that all your component parts are done, it’s time to get down to business. Remove your chicken from the stew pot and set it aside. Then raise the heat, and let the liquid in the pot boil down to about half of its original volume. Once you’ve done that you can turn the heat down to medium, and stir in your sort-of roux (a.k.a. beurre manie, a.k.a a paste of flour and butter). Make sure to keep stirring — otherwise your sauce will have lumps.
Once your sauce has thickened (stick a spoon in there – when you run you finger down the back, does the sauce stay put? Great, you’re done), you’re ready to rumble. Plate your chicken with its sides (I went for roasted garlic mashed potatoes, but buttered peas, boiled potatoes or pasta would work just as well), and sauce generously.
And that’s it! You, my friend, have just made a delicious stew with a fancy French name in under an hour. And you didn’t have to break the bank to do it. Give this one a try — I promise you won’t regret it.
Budget-Friendly Coq au Vin
based on the recipe by Julia Child, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One
- 4 oz (1/3 of a standard package) bacon
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 pounds chicken pieces (I used whole chicken legs, but any skin-on, bone-in pieces will do)
- 1/4 c. bourbon, whiskey, or brandy
- 3 cups red wine (I used the $3 bottle of Cab Sauvignon I had on hand — a Burgundy is traditional)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 tbs. tomato paste
- 2 cloves mashed garlic
- 1/4 tsp. thyme leaves, plus 5-6 whole sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- 15-25 peeled pearl onions
- 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered
- 2 tbs. minced shallot
- Cut bacon into lardons (approx. 1 in. x 1/4 in. rectangles)
- Simmer lardons in water for about 10 minutes.
- Drain lardons, rinse in cold water, and dry.
- In a large Dutch oven or saucepan (basically any pan you have that is both wide and relatively deep), sauté the bacon in 2 tbs. of butter over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Remove to a bowl.
- Dry your chicken and season it well with salt and pepper.
- Brown the chicken in the remaining butter and bacon fat, approx. 3 minutes per side.
- Return the bacon to the pan with the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook for 5 minutes per side.
- Uncover the pan and pour in your bourbon. Using a lighter or long match, ignite the alcohol. Shake the pan from side-to-side for several seconds, or until the flames subside.
- Add the wine to your pan. Then add about 1 cup of chicken stock, or however much is required to barely cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, 1/4 tsp. thyme, and 1 bay leaf .
- Bring the liquid to a simmer and cover, cooking for about 25 minutes.
- While the chicken is cooking, prepare your onions.
- Heat 2 tbs. butter and olive oil in a separate, small saucepan over medium heat.
- Once the fat is hot, add the onions, shaking the pan every few minutes until the onions are golden-brown. Onions should sauté for about 10 minutes.
- When the onions are brown, add 1/2 cup chicken stock, the remaining bay leaf, and thyme sprigs to the pan. Cover and simmer until the chicken is done.
- While the chicken and onions are cooking, prepare the mushrooms.
- Heat another 2 tbs. of butter and olive oil in a separate frying pan over medium-high heat.
- When the fat is hot, add the mushrooms, periodically tossing, and cook 4-5 minutes.
- Once the mushrooms are golden brown, reduce the heat to medium. Add the shallots, and cook until tender. Season to taste.
- Let the mushrooms sit in their pan, with no heat, while the chicken and onions cook.
- Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and reserve on a separate plate.
- Skim the fat off the top of the chicken braising liquid.
- Once skimmed, bring the liquid to a rapid boil, and reduce by approx. half. Reduce heat to medium.
- Mix remaining 2 tbs. of softened butter and 1 tbs. flour in a separate bowl to create a paste.
- Stir the paste into the reduced liquid, stirring vigorously.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer, and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
- Once the liquid is thickened enough to coat a spoon, return the chicken to the pan.
- Turn off the heat, and stir in the onions and mushrooms.
- Serve the coq au vin with buttered peas, mashed potatoes, buttered parsley potatoes, or buttered pasta.
Day 71: March 14, 2017