I envision the dish being created somewhat like this: Rooster Jacques is past his prime. He still walks tall, chest plumped out, waking his masters at 3 am, and courting the chicks in his dominion. But his apparatus, the inseminator of so many oh-so-delicious young birds, is lacking in luster. And so Mother Genevieve decides it is time for vieil Jacques to serve his last purpose. Jacques has been roaming the coop for a few years now. His muscles tough and aged. Your regular fricassee won't tenderize those roughed up legs who fought so many battles against dogs, children and rivals. With plenty of Burgundy in the cellar, Genevieve submerges Jacques in good wine and decides to cook the coq for a while...
Jump to 2008 and old roosters are nowhere to be found. Partly for fun, partly to quench a certain curiosity and partly due to pure naïveté, I called our local meat market and inquired about ordering a rooster. In disbelief as to what kind of idiot, lunatic or prankster was on the other line, the Brooklyn accent yelled across the room "This guy wants a roosta! Yeah! A ROOSTA. He wants a roosta." I found out the best they could do was a Capon, a young castrated male chicken. They are usually a few weeks older than their female counterparts, whom we commonly find in every supermarket. The market said they needed a week to get me an eunuch rooster, so I gave up on that goal.
All of this is to say that I failed in my quest for the Holy Grail. Maybe one day I will find my Jacques. In the meantime, we had a fantastic meal this Saturday. I got two so-called Black Feathered Chickens from Bo Bo farms, in upstate NY (love the homepage that shows a chicken with "head included"). The description on the package said they were a bit more mature than the other birds around. So, I went with the ladies, instead of the chicks.
I thoroughly examined over six recipes. To compensate for the short cooking time, some recipes ask you to marinate the chicken overnight (e.g.. Alton Brown and Epicurious). I found one that claims to be for a person who actually has a rooster to cook. Saveur has a recipe that I almost chose as the winner, but the cocoa threw me off. I am sure it is delicious, but I wanted a classic and not a classic with chocolate. Supported by a great post I read on ...an endless banquet, I came back to my original inspiration: fail-proof Julia Child. Her recipe assumes you are using a regular supermarket chicken, with about 3 lbs of meat. Since my birds were about 4.5 lbs each -- including feet, leftover feathers and more fat than I have ever seen on a chicken -- I simply doubled the recipe.
In an attempt to leave my black-feathered friends swimming in Pinot a while longer than the recipe asked for, I cooked it a day ahead and did not reduce the sauce at first. I just let it cool after cooking for thirty minutes and put the whole Dutch-oven in the fridge.
The next day I took the hardened fat off the top (and saved it), removed the chicken parts and continued to follow Julia's instructions to reduce the sauce. I used part of the reserved fat to brown the potatoes, mushrooms and onions. I also used all giblets, feet, necks, and bones to make a chicken stock that I used in a soup last night.
I think I speak for those at the table when I say the meal was truly excellent. I am still daydreaming about the taste of the sauce. If I could I would have swam in it. Simple flavors combining in perfect harmony. Nothing too fancy: chicken, garlic, butter, flour, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, mushrooms, onions, wine ($12 pinot noir bottles, from Mendoza, Argentina), salt and pepper. Perhaps the only "special" ingredient is the Cognac, which I substituted for Armagnac (roughly the same thing). But in reality, the wine as well as the cognac are your French equivalents of American lager and Tennessee whiskey.
I served it with a Pear-Manchego salad to start (a big hit and I highly recommend it). And Julia knows best: parsley potatoes and green beans were the perfect accompaniments.
All in all, Coq au Vin is a dish that merits the hype. It is a dish that lingers on your palate and your mind, like a perfect vacation day. I keep trying to come back to the taste of that sauce and the meat falling off the bones. I will certainly do it again some day, and then I will only use legs, thighs and wings. In my opinion the breasts were sub-par when compared to the rest.
I have to admit that my first impression of the Coq au Vin, as I took that first bite, was of slight disappointment. But then again, my expectations were impossibly high, carrying the baggage of a meal one waits their entire life for. Moreover, I had a hard time letting go off the "what if this were a true Coq au Vin"- thought. I mean, the chicken cooked for about 30 minutes in the wine. I am sure Jacques would have cooked for a few more hours. Imagine how much more filled with wine and deliciousness his old muscles would be.
Approach your modern-age Coq au Vin with humility and reason and you shall be blown away by this dish. Piglet and I ate the leftovers yesterday, and it was fantastic, again. Too bad we finished it.
Coq au vin, by Julia Child
(Chicken in red wine with onions, mushrooms and bacon)
For 4 to 6 people.
A 3-4 oz chunk of lean bacon
2 Tbsp butter
2 1/2 - 3 lb cut-up frying chicken
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, or Chianti
1 - 2 cups brown chicken stock or beef bouillon
1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/4 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
*12 - 24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)
**1/2 lb sauteed mushrooms (recipe follows)
3 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp softened butter
several sprigs fresh parsley
Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons (1/4" x 1"
long rectangles). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.
Saute the bacon slowly in 2Tbsp of hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.
Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in a stove-proof casserole.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken.
Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (instructions follow).
Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove the reduced cooking liquid from the heat, then discard the bay leaf.
Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manié). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and simmer for 1-2 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onion around it, and baste with the sauce.
Shortly before serving, bring to a simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for about 5 minutes, until chicken is hot through.
Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with springs of parsley.
*Oignons Glacés à Brun
18-24 peeled white onions, about 1" in diameter
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup of red wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp thyme)
Heat the butter and oil in a 9- to 10-inch enameled skillet. When they begin to
bubble, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes,
rolling the onions around so that they brown evenly as possible and being
careful not to break their skins.
Pour in the wine, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet.
**Champignon Sautés au Beurre
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 lb small fresh mushrooms, washed, dried, and left whole
Attention: do not salt them until ready to serve.
Place a 10-inch enameled skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their saute the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
2 pounds small, "boiling"potatoes or new potatoes
2 Tbsp butter
1Tbsp oil (more if needed)
1/4 tsp salt
Peel the potatoes and cut them into elongated olive shapes all the same size, 2 to 2 1/2 inches long and 1 to 1 1/4 inches at their widest diameter. Cut them smoothly, so they will roll around easily and color evenly when sauteed. (You may save the cuttings for a good leek soup, for example.)
Add enough butter and oil to the skillet to film it by 1/16 inch and set over moderately high heat. When butter is very hot put the potatoes into skillet. Leave them for 2 minutes, regulating heat so butter is always very hot but not browning. Then shake skillet back and forth to roll the potatoes and sear them on another side for 2 minutes. Continue thus for 4 to 5 minutes more until the potatoes are a pale golden color all over, indicating that a seared, protective film has formed over them, so that they will not stick to the pan.
Then sprinkle the potatoes with salt and roll them again in the skillet.
Lower heat, cover skillet, and cook for about 15 minutes, shaking potatoes every 3 to 4 minutes to prevent sticking.
They are done when they yield slightly to the pressure of your finger, or a knife pierces them easily.
Chop parsley and sprinkle on top before serving.
1 pound green beans, washed and with ends cut off.
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Cook beans in boiling water for about 3-4 minutes, until they are cooked but have not lost bright green color. Remove from water, add salt and pepper and butter. Serve.
For 4-6 people
Large bowl of mixed greens, washed and dry
1 large red beet
2 1/2 oz Manchego, shaved
2 pears, peeled and cut into eighths
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp water
Make a bed of greens in a large serving bowl. Peel beet and grate it raw. Place on top of greens.
Bring water and balsamic vinegar to a boil. Cook pears in liquid for about 3 minutes. Remove and place on bed of beets and greens. Arrange Manchego shavings on top. Serve with Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing.