Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Coq Au Vin

Finally, my heavy work assignment has come to an end, and I’m back in the kitchen, kittens! To celebrate, I decided to take a few days off, and cook something grand on one of those days. Because I had a spare chicken in the freezer (I love that), I settled on the grand and delicious sounding coq au vin.

Coq au vin is, basically, chicken (usually an older, tougher chicken) stewed in wine until it is tender and flavorful. The addition of bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions only added to the allure of the dish, and I thought it was a perfect way to get back into the swing of cooking my way through this lovely book. A quick trip to the Whole Foods for the aromatics and some wine, and we were set to go.

First things first--marinate the chicken. Easy enough--I chopped up the aromatics (onion, carrot, celery) and bundled up the herbs and spices, plopping them all into my biggest kitchen bowl with the chicken, and then poured a bottle of cheap French red over the top. This is where I ran into my first problem, however. Tony calls for the wine to fully cover the chicken which... it didn’t. The legs of the chicken are rising above the red pool. After scouring the kitchen for any more bowls, I realized that anything else I had was either too small to fit the chicken, or too big to let the wine come up more than halfway around the damn thing, so the bowl would have to do. I chucked it into the fridge to marinate with a hope that it would be enough.

A few hours later, the chicken was kind of a ghastly red color which, I figured, meant it had soaked in enough wine. I separated the liquid marinade from the solid veggies and herbs, then patted the chicken dry and set about browning it in my dutch oven.

Zombie chicken?

Here is where I ran into some problems. According to Tony, you’re supposed to brown the entire chicken--whole. My dutch oven fit the thing fine, but where I was struggling was turning the darn thing over so it could brown evenly on all sides. Now, in my admittedly beloved Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, Thomas Keller warns against using tongs, since they cut and tear at the food you’re trying to move. I scoffed (YES I SCOFFED AT THOMAS KELLER) because who the hell was he to tell me not to use my beloved tongs, aka “bacon nippers” as that is what they are generally used for at my house. Well, I repent, Mr. Keller. The tongs I was using tore into the chicken’s skin as I struggled mightily to turn the damn thing over in the pot. Admittedly, my large kitchen spoons and spatula did pretty much the same thing, so really, not much improvement. Anyway, by the time the thing was browned, it was also torn and kind of gross looking. Oh well, I figured, it’ll taste good anyway.

Ew but yum (??).

Next I browned the carrot, celery and onion that I'd used in the marinade. This took a little while, as they were still a bit damp from the wine.

At least these look appetizing...

Once browned, I sprinkled them with flour, then added the chicken and the marinade liquid, and set it to cook over low heat for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Okay, second problem. Low heat barely touched this pot-o-gunk. After the first few minutes I took a look at the pot, then cautiously stuck a finger in. Despite the flame at the bottom, the stuff at the top was ice cold! Not a good cooking technique, especially for chicken. I raised the heat in order to get things going, which seemed to work all right.

Then I cubed up the bacon and crisped it in the pan, set the bacon aside and fried mushroom tops in the grease. This smelled divine, and it was all I could do to keep from munching on bacon bits and mushroom tops and calling it dinner.

Okay, last part of the recipe! Time to cook the pearl onions and--wait, what? I'm supposed to fill a pot with enough water and butter to cook the onions, boil it down under a parchment lid, then once the liquid is gone, brown the onions in the leftover butter? When I saw this I facepalmed, because if you're cooking the onions at a simmer, not a boil, this is going to take ages.

Parchment lid = this takes for freaking ever.

And hey, I was right. The chicken finished cooking long before the onions even halfway boiled down, but I just clapped the lid on the dutch oven to keep it all warm, and kept the onions going. Finally, the water receded, and the onions began to brown a little in the butter. Then? They fell apart. Completely. Like, all that was left in the pot was this weird onion mush. Only thing was, the mush tasted buttery, sweet and AMAZING, like ambrosia onion mush.

Mmmmm delicious mush.

There was no fond in the pot to speak of, but I reduced some of the wine anyway, and made the sauce with the marinade as specified (though I had to use a little corn starch to fake the thickening after Husband J began to complain about how hungry he was). I was so demoralized by that time that after I got the whole freaking thing plated, I couldn't be bothered to take a picture of the ripped up chicken with onion mush in a too thin sauce.

But you know what?

It actually tasted pretty good--and even better the next day after I shredded the remaining chicken meat and served it, and the sauce, over some buttery linguine. Just goes to show that you shouldn't write off a dish just because of some initial failure.

Still, it got me thinking that maybe I shouldn't dive in to these difficult recipes so soon... maybe try something a bit simpler and try to get more in the swing of things.

Lessons Learned: Read the whole freaking recipe before you start, so you can figure out what part of it will take for freaking ever. Even disastrous recipes can taste pretty good, especially when they've been left to meld for a while.

Next week: Tartiflette